The El Paso Tribune - El Paso Texas Political Commentary
Constantine
February 27, 2005 - David Rout

The most important ideas are almost always the vaguest.  In theology the biggest in the Jeudo-Christian world is the distinction between heaven and hell.  I have never been one to believe in the fire and brimstone vision of damnation.  I do love Death's line in the remake of Meet Joe Black about "facing finality beyond your comprehension, and you will not be counting days, or months, or years, but millenniums in a place with no doors".  Still the Christian and Roman Catholic view of sin and damnation lies at the core of Constantine.  It's not about the Roman Emperor but about freelance exorcist based on a comic book.

As the film open we are told about the Spear of Destiny which was the spear that pierced Christ's side during the crucifixion.  In northern Mexico a transient is searching a burned out church for junk to sell.  Inadvertently he stumbles on a hole in the floor and finds a spear point wrapped around a Nazi flag.  After taking the spear point, the transient gets hit by a speeding car - however the car wraps around the victim as if he was immobile and made of lead, quickly he shakes off the mild injury and runs north.

Meanwhile in an indigent immigrant apartment building a young Hispanic mother discovers her daughter possessed and soon a Taxi arrives and John Constantine appears. Constantine moves to the bedroom where the demonic daughter roars and growls. Constantine is unimpressed and puts down his cigarette and performs a brief exorcism but then discovers that an otherworldly force is trying to break through the girlís body.  Through the use of a mirror and sunlight, John gets rid of the evil but is worried about how unusual this exorcism was. Finding his cigarette burnt out John Constantine leaves coughing and gagging.

In another part, Angela Dobson (Rachel Weisz) is going to confession after killing an armed suspect.  She remarks on how she always seems to find the most violent criminals and when they attack her she always manages to shoot first and hit them in the right place. Of course, her being LAPD might be an answer but for the movie's sake itís not pursued.  She then learns that her twin sister has committed suicide after leaping off her hospital's roof.  Seeking to ensure a proper Catholic burial she petitions a Bishop at the Diocese.  There she meets Constantine who is seeking an audience with another ecclesiastical authority.

At the Dioceses Angela learns that since her sister Isabel died in a suicide the church can't give her a Catholic burial and that her soul is dammed for her action.  Constantine speaks with Tilda Swinton (Adaptation, The Beach) who plays Gabriel, the Gabriel an Archangel of God.  John has learned that his lung cancer has reoccurred and he will be dead in a matter of months. Constantine hopes that his years of work exorcizing demons will help him win salvation. Gabriel tells him that God can't ignore Constantine's sin and that he has no faith because he knows.  Constantine can see the metaphysical world we can't see where "half-breeds" of the angelic and demonic bent play with the souls of mankind.  In a classic moment Gabriel dressed in his/her 1920's tailored suit tells Constantine that in spiritual terms, "You're F----d". 

Now at this point the film gets a little weird.  Just kidding but we do get to visit the bizarre occult underworld of Los Angeles.  Where bizarre amulets and items are exchanged, where the homeless are sometimes insect laden hit men and where you can visit a bar that only allows you admission if you can telepathically read a card.  The film follows Angela and Constantine as they seek to discover the truth about Isabel's death and why the Mexican transient is making his way to L.A.  If the subject matter seems trite the film makes up for it with a lush urban style of dark streets and gloomy sets.  A veteran of many music videos rookie director Francis Lawrence gives the film his every attention. The editing and pace are perfect and each shot is elegant in grabbing the proper mood for this religious action film.

Rachel Weisz manages to underplay her performance to the same level as Keanu Reeves as Constantine.  Reeves does his best acting while chain smoking which isn't exactly interesting but true to the spirit of the character.  John Constantine's character calls for someone who is enigmatic and bored with the world and who is never surprised, Keanu Reevesí perfect casting.  One nice moment between Weisz and Reeves involves Rachel getting a modified baptism in a tub in order to awaken a psychic power.  When Rachel asks if she should take off all her clothes Constantine pauses and replies "I'm thinking".  Every moment of sexual tension is a modified running gag in the film, which works.

Constantine has an excellent collection of supporting players with Gladiator's Djimon Hounsou as nightclub owner/witch doctor.  Peter Stromare steals his solitary scene as Satan and Swinton is excellent as the judgmental Gabriel.  The film offers a few surprises along the way but you can see them coming.  What Constantine does offer is fun action and adventure with theological bent.  If you like your religion in comic book form in three color printing with an advertisement for 100 Army Men in its very own footlocker on the back cover.

David Rout was a former contributor to the El Paso Times and was a previous film critic for Stanton Street. Contact the author at: drout@elpasobhi.org

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