Gliding, silently over a terrific model cityscape, straight through the window to the apartment of rock musician Eric Draven, and we are immediately drawn into the events surrounding his death and that of his girlfriend. Without pausing, even for a title, let alone opening credits, The Crow begins as it means to go on...stylishly. I thought I knew what to expect from this film but must say I was happy to have been proven wrong so often as the film progressed. Story-wise, no great surprises, in fact, none. But the tone of the screenplay and the personality of the leading Draven character were unexpected. Here is the plot:
Man and girlfriend get killed by hoodlums. Man rises from the dead. Man gets his revenge on hoodlums. Man returns to the dead.
Those four sentences tell you all you need to know, but within this tired, old framework, director Alex Proyas has crafted an anti-hero's tale that is both entertaining and refreshing. Moreover, the Draven character is more than the one-dimensional, emotionally simplistic character one has come to expect in films of this nature. Based on a comic, the film incorporates some scenes almost exactly as seen in print, the biggest deviation from the source being a toning down of the violence.
Some of the very best moments are those seen in flashback to when Eric and his girlfriend were together before their tragic deaths. These scenes, although brief, convince us that their life used to be a happy and contented one (despite living in a metropolitan hell) simply because they had each other. Once that serenity is destroyed, by the hoodlums awful rape and fatal attack that followed, one can almost feel the desperate rage inside Draven that forces him to commit murderous revenge. It is exactly this frisson which is missing from the Batman films (and I'm a big fan of them). Even the overall superior Robocop, whilst managing to convincingly portray the human emotions that lay behind the titanium mask of a cyborg, didn't capture this enigmatic quality as well as The Crow does. The fly-posters for the film told you more about the bands featured on the soundtrack than it did about the film itself. However, the music is seamlessly incorporated into the film and doesn't intrude like the Prince songs do in Batman or the various 'rock' contributions for the similarly-marketed Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth.
Of course, it is impossible to review this film without mention of it's star, Brandon Lee, who was killed in a freak shooting accident during filming. While no Sir Laurence Oliver, Lee's adaptable (and very charismatic) performance convinces admirably and it is a loss that we won't be able to see how his career may have developed. Well-cast supporting players are led by the assured playing of Rochelle Davis as the street urchin whose heroin-addicted mother drives her to find comfort first with the young lovers and later with a cop. The film even manages to incorporate anti-drug messages by being funny and not preaching. The art direction and (vast number of) special effects deserve to be singled out as being most impressive and inventive, especially when one takes into account the reasonably modest budget. With far more emotional substance than expected, stunning visuals and some great Hong Kong-style double-handed gunplay action, The Crow has everything to achieve a status many of today's short-sighted critics may be surprised to find it has in ten years time. Essential viewing.