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Since he was a child, John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) has possessed a rare gift, the ability to see beyond the normal world and identify the half-breed angels and demons who live among us and influence our lives. However, he regards his psychic ability as a curse and faces apparently certain damnation after committing suicide, a mortal sin, and returning from Hell. In an attempt to win back a place in Heaven he roams the earth seeking and eliminating troublesome half-demons, but his solitude is disturbed when he agrees to help Angela (Rachel Weisz), a young woman whose twin sister has also apparently committed suicide and been damned.

Review by Jake Wilson:
To get one issue out of the way, the John Constantine in this movie has nothing in common with the wry, down-at-heel Brit I recall from various DC comics (mainly his cameos in Sandman). The makers of this film adaptation haven’t reinvented the character so much as erased his specificity, converting him into a Californian-accented but stateless icon whose spiffy black suit remains uncreased even after a walk through Hell. 

Though I have a soft spot for Keanu Reeves there’s no denying this is one of his worst performances, every line intoned in a gravedigger’s voice that’s meant to lend weight to his presence but just makes him sound even dopier than usual. Perhaps as an attempt to placate the fans, Constantine’s original nationality is shifted onto the supporting cast: one of the hero’s several sidekicks is a chirpy Cockney geezer with bent spectacles, while Tilda Swinton as a half-breed angel projects an unsettling kindergarten-teacher brightness that lets her steal a few scenes.

But for the most part this is a vague and abstract movie, with not much detail to its fictional world and even fewer good jokes. Francis Lawrence is clearly a visually-orientated director, and his noir fantasy styling suggests a less personal version of what Alex Proyas did in Dark City and The Crow, relying on unsettlingly symmetrical compositions, portentous overhead shots and abrupt cuts from action to silence. There are occasional strong images: Keanu’s destruction of a roomful of demons via an indoor sprinkler system, or the digital propelling of characters across space like balls in a cosmic pinball machine. But unlike in the two Proyas films or the Matrix series, these details aren’t placed in the service of any larger original vision.

Five years after the millennium, apocalypse is back in the air, with occult conspiracies (à la The Da Vinci Code) and afterlife fantasies all the rage across several media. This hunger for meaning should be taken seriously even when dramatised in what looks like disposable pulp: Constantine is a film about the possibility of opening the doors of perception, revealing not just a netherworld of angels and demons but the skull beneath the skin. But most of its fascination is negated by the syndrome noted a few years ago by filmmaker and critic Olivier Assayas: all those Hollywood movies that draw us in by raising intriguing metaphysical questions, but eventually boil down to “two people having a fistfight in a warehouse”.

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(US, 2005)

CAST: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Max Baker, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare

PRODUCER: Lorenzo DiBonaventura, Akiva Goldsman, Benjamin Melniker, Lauren Shuler Donner, Erwin Stoff, Michael E. Uslan, Lorenzo di Bonaventura

DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence

SCRIPT: Kevin Brodbin, Frank A. Cappello (Story by Kevin Brodbin; comic book by Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philippe Rousselot

EDITOR: Wayne Wahrman

MUSIC: Brian Tyler


RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 24, 2005

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: July 21, 2005

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