Fun fact: the entire movie will be shot in this pool!
Dammit, I don’t know how to swim!
I’ve seen Constantine (2005) a number of times over the years, and I think it’s one of those under-appreciated movies you hear about, although I understand that someone’s under-appreciated movie may just be drek to me, and vice versa. I like Constantine, first and foremost, for the tight plot, which features John Constantine, a cynical, bitter defender of mankind, doomed to Hell, and his encounter with a police detective whose twin sister has just committed suicide.
Except she doesn’t think so.
In a world where the “half-breeds” can whisper in the ears of the vulnerable, manipulating them towards various ends, John functions as a policeman upholding a misty, gloomy treaty between God and Satan, judging when the agents of one or the other have stepped over the ill-defined lines drawn up in that agreement, and removing them – violently.
But the suicide begins a chain of events in which John’s friends, who are not as sympathetic as they might have been, are beginning to die and odd, impossible things are starting to happen. Satan’s son, Mammon, lusts for control of the world, and he’s found a way to do it.
And when push comes to shove, and even God’s agents have betrayed him, John just has to bust the move you wouldn’t expect the hell-bound to do – he commits suicide.
Once you accept the supernatural, the plot seems organic and logical, although I’ll leave fine theological points to the Catholics. I find it easy to believe in Constantine’s actions, as well as those of the detective; the motivations of Constantine’s friends, unfortunately, are less clear, and if they’re interesting, they’re too obscure to actually contribute what they might have to the plot.
The special effects are, for the most part, well done. Hell itself is suitably horrifying, but its references to modern life, principally in the form of the modern city, ruined in hellfire, really makes the point. And I appreciate how the tile floor wrinkles as a body being dragged down to Hell acquires more and more weight – it’s a special effect with a specific, appreciated message.
I will object, however, to a scene in which someone is about to be stabbed when time stops, and … I just don’t think it’s well done. And our glimpse of Heaven, well, what are you going to do with the indescribable? Make it look like a couple of buildings wrapped in golden fog? Granted, it’s a tough one to do, but this felt limp.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the ancient evils from Hell against certain modern sensibilities, in particular the egotism mankind’s defenders has, and the calm use of golden, sanctified bullets on the invading force.
And the portrayal of Satan is something I keep coming back to – he’s not overawing or regal, he’s banal and probably enjoys roasting ants under a magnifying glass, and has amazing powers that it’s difficult to understand his goal in using them – except to satisfy childish impulses. It’s a lovely portrayal of evil, if Satan is evil.
I don’t want to forget to mention the very dry sense of humor that occasionally shows up. Just what is this chemistry between John and the police detective? I’m not even sure they know. But it kept me amused.
It’s by no means a perfect movie. I suspect another rewrite of the script might have given us more insight into hell-bound John’s state of mind as he fights for mankind, tormented by the knowledge that he has lung cancer, and that would have increased the impact of the movie. And while I did say the plot was tight, during this viewing I kept a weather-eye out and picked up on a couple of plot holes. For example, the last confrontation with Midnight – what convinces him to help John? That’s not in the least clear.
But it is still a tight ship that celebrates the never-say-die attitude, and that sometimes even Satan can be fooled – and sometime he’ll fool you right back.