United States, 1994
U.S. Release Date:
R (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Brandon Lee, Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott, David Patrick Kelly, Angel David, Rochelle Davis
David J. Schow and John Shirley based on the comic series by James O'Barr
The Crow is a gothic nightmare. With a view of Detroit that is every bit as bleak and dazzling as the urban panoramas presented in Batman and Blade Runner, this film makes it clear from the outset that wherever its flaws may lie, they will not be in the realm of visual presentation. Indeed, not only is The Crow a feast for the eyes, but it collides violently with another sense, utilizing a high decibel soundtrack to keep the energy level up.
There can be few in the audience upon whom the tragic irony of this picture will be lost. Lead actor Brandon Lee met his death in the final days of filming, killed as the result of a gun accident while acting the part of a man who returns from the dead to avenge his murder and that of his girlfriend (the film is dedicated to Lee and his fiancee, Eliza Hutton). It is a case of "art imitating death", and that specter will always hang over The Crow. Fortunately, however, the vision of director Alex Proyas lifts this film above its sad history.
Lee plays murdered rock star Eric Draven, who returns from the grave one year following his Devil's Night slaughter. His task is simple and bloody -- avenge his death and that of his beloved Shelly by taking out each of the four killers. This he proceeds to do, with each murder becoming progressively more grizzly. Along the way, he teams up with a friendly cop (Ernie Hudson) who sympathizes with his goals.
The Crow allows no room for the viewer to take a breath, as it blazes with breakneck speed from scene to scene. Proyas displays a similar talent to that of John McTiernan and James Cameron in the way he packages the action scenes. This motion picture moves, and that makes up for a number of character and plot deficiencies. Admittedly, the appeal of The Crow is entirely visceral. There's nothing intellectual about frying eyeballs and impaled bodies. No matter how stylish the direction and how captivating the action scenes, it's hard to see this film as much more than a highly-accomplished entry into the "revenge picture" genre.
The decision to tell the story, at least in part, from the perspective of young Sarah (Rochelle Davis) is an effective choice. By utilizing her point-of-view, The Crow attains an emotional level that it would not otherwise have reached. This is one of the few occasions when a voiceover works to advance, rather than hinder, the story. Most of the comic relief is provided by Angel David's Shank, but this character grows wearisome quickly, and lingers for a few too many scenes. Conversely, we probably don't see enough flashbacks of Eric and Shelly together in happier times.
Over the past few years, the flow of action movies has slowed, but that hasn't meant an overall increase in quality. The Crow is rare exception -- something that stands out because it's different and exciting. As a project that the director and producer finished in memory of their young star, this film is a fitting epitaph.