My expectations had been thoroughly trashed for this one, and then some other blogs reviewed it saying essentially that if you had low expectations you won't think it's too bad.
So I'm going in expecting something I'll enjoy as much as, say, Van Helsing, AvP, or maybe Hellboy (2004 was the year of reasonably satisfying but not particularly good action horror films).
Instead I got a film that will probably go in with Resident Evil and Mission: Impossible (1) on enjoyment level -- in other words, I give it a 4 out of 5, will buy the DVD quickly then watch it fairly often.
I'll list out some stuff [SPOILERS BELOW]:
Yeah, I missed the accent but Keanu is always fun to watch, and he managed to capture the dark sarcasm of the character. I think they should have pushed him more towards angry and bitter at the world instead of brooding though.
L.A. works fine in the film; gives it a nice connection with the Chandler novels.
This is one of those movies where they tried to fit too much in -- but this time it doesn't hurt the film so much. The filmmakers drag you kicking and screaming over the bumps and plot holes between the sequences at such a high pace that they aren't too bothersome -- much the same as The Maltese Falcon.
There are a number of very cool scenes. The tiny little fight against the demons on the street in front of the religious icon is terrific -- I don't understand it, but it's memorable.
My spider sense felt the hand of a powerful, but easily confused, member of the production team. You can see signs of this when a sequence plays out as follows: Constantine and sidekick enter building to fight demons -- sidekick runs upstairs to a big water tank, then drops a cross in tank and some vials of water from the River Jordan -- Constantine faces down a gang of demons in a large room, then holds up his cigarette lighter to the sprinkler system -- sprinklers go off and the water melts the skin off the demons ****** then, because the powerful but easily confused member of production team didn't quite figure it out and was worried the audience wouldn't either, we have some demon actually say "HOLY WATER". BTW, that's an iconic example of "on the nose" dialogue, and something typically not present in early drafts, but only after notes come down from on high.
Tilda Swinton was terrific as the androgynous Gabriel. I particularly liked the ending, where she plays a rather unique form of crazy, causing all this suffering in order to make humans worthy of God's love -- she really pulls it off at the end, being like this supportive, sweet-natured aunt who just happens to have a bunch of hoboes buried in the basement. This is a fresh take on an antagonist and I hope she gets some major play in the sequels, if there are any.
Gavin Rossdale pulled some nice scenes as the lesser antagonist, Balthazar. There's not a lot for him to do, but there's one early scene where he chats with Constantine and reveals the sadism and corruption hidden under his power suit and nice manicure. It reminded me of the characters in In the Company of Men, a film so unpleasant I couldn't watch it all the way through, despite being terrifically done.
Peter Stormare pulled off a great vision of Lucifer/Satan. I much prefer this kind of portrayal to the regal sort such as in The Devil's Advocate or Angel Heart. Constantine's Satan owes more to Doestoyevsky's devil in clownish rags -- you might fear him but there won't be any respect in it. Underneath his expensive white suit black slime runs constantly down his feet, leaving a filthy trail everywhere. And the mannerisms, Stormare gets this really right since he comes off not as Darth Vader, the cool force of darkness, but as a pedophiliac uncle -- something sick and scary and just a little pathetic.
For a time the producers were thinking of getting Peter Stormare to play the role of the older guy in The Sound. I'm not sure if that will still work out (timing matters a lot for a small production) -- but I'd be very happy with him in the part.