A Gothic fantasy/ action revenge thriller, The Crow dazzles on the visual front and weaves a melancholy yet pulse pounding spell over the audience. The accidental death of star Brandon Lee also impacts on the film with a grim sense of irony and sadness.
In a decaying, dark city where it always seems to rain and crime is almost ever present, rock star Eric Draven( Brandon Lee) and his fiancée Shelley Webster( Sofia Shinas) plan to get married on Halloween. They are deeply in love and are each other’s rock in the tides of violence that surrounds them. Then brutality strikes on Devils Night, when a street gang barges into their apartment and brutally kills Eric and rape Shelley. Shelly dies later from her wounds and Eric lies dead on the sidewalk. Sergeant Albrecht( Ernie Hudson) , who is one of the only decent people in this place of corruption is on the case and takes young Sarah(Rochelle Davis) under his wing. Sarah is a neglected waif who was incredibly close to the deceased couple and who now is looked after by Albrecht, as her drug-addled mother has no time for her . A year later, a crow lands on Eric’s grave and begins tapping on the tombstone. Moments later, this resurrects a confused and traumatised Eric. Stumbling back to his apartment with the help of the crow as his guide, Eric experiences flashbacks of that fateful night and swears revenge on the scum that killed him and Shelley. Donning striking clown like makeup, black clothing and realising that his wounds heal now that he’s been resurrected, he sets about tracking down the gang. Whatever the crow sees, he sees as he brutally sets about righting the deadly wrongs. The low level, scummy gang consisting of T-Bird(David Patrick Kelly), Skank(Angel David), Tin-Tin(Laurence Mason) and Funboy( Michael Masses) are setting fires across the dank city and don’t expect the vengeance coming their way. To the gang, it’s just another night to cause mayhem and indulge in violence, but it’s going to get a lot more bloody now that Eric is on their trail . As Eric eliminates the gang, it leads him up to twisted crime boss Top Dollar( Michael Wincott), who is a nasty piece of work and the one who rules over the chaos of the city. Violence unfolds as Eric seeks vengeance to be at peace and right the wrongs inflicted on him and his beloved , while influencing both Sergeant Albrecht and Sarah along the way.
Alex Proyas is a sensationally visual director who truly brings this mournful yet thrilling film to life. Lifting it from the comic book source, Proyas is on to something special with The Crow. He’s truly alive in the action scenes and when shooting them, while also bringing something else to the project. The flashy yet evocative aura is on point with how it delivers both thrills and story, particularly in the flashback sequences. It must be said that there are some areas where the film falls flat such as not enough backstory for some characters and occasionally an emphasis of style over substance . Saying that, Eric, Albrecht and Sarah are all well designed and explored and the flaws are pretty minor so I can forgive a few gripes. When it comes to the grisly yet thrilling action, this movie delivers with scenes of crazy action in high demand and prominence with its fast running time. On the visual front, The Crow is masterful and it’s sublimely dark and Gothic design is as haunting as it is beautiful. The city that the characters inhabit is both dark and dank and exquisitely painted, with the rare appearance of brightness coming up every now and then against the harsh rain that continues to fall throughout. The editing is stylish and reminiscent of a music video with more substance, and it’s hard to fault it on that score. The camera pans across this nightmarish world with precision and flair; with many moments slowed down to capture the impact of events as Eric goes about exacting poetic justice and other parts being kinetic when vengeance truly hits home for the scum of the streets( check the bullet laden shootout at Top Dollar’s residence for a great example). The comic book origins come through in the cinematography Dariusz Wolski who injects The Crow with ambience that sucks you into this unjust world that just got a dose of Karma. If anything, The Crow is a feast for the eyes but also has some depth and a cloud of melancholy to it. Brandon Lee’s tragic passing impacts on this sense of sadness but there is a grim irony also attached to it. Lee died just as he was about to make it in the mainstream in a freak accident and also soon to marry his real life fiancée, the irony being that his character comes back to life following demise. It swathes The Crow in a deep sense of sadness and what if possibilities for the actor and this made the film into a cult hit. Depth comes in how Eric just wants to teach them all a lesson and avenge his beloved; when he first rises he is confused and disorientated, followed by flashbacks that spur him on to become a weapon of revenge. He isn’t just a single minded killing machine as he doesn’t kill those who haven’t wronged him or Shelley, plus he brings some clarity to the lives of Albrecht and Sarah. He’s a romantic angel of vengeance and swift justice who you don’t want to cross. The soundtrack is pumping and all encompassing, backed up by the atmospheric and darkly romantic score from Graeme Revell. Both enable the film to also be an aural experience as well as a visual one.
The late Brandon Lee heads the cast as the avenger of justice with a sinuous blend of tragedy, action star and intense demeanour. Lee has a dark sense of charisma that’s tempered with both an athleticism and a deep well of sadness. He’s undeniably hard to take your eyes off as he owns the screen whenever he’s around, which is nearly every scene. It’s sad that this was his last movie as he shows great promise as a movie star who could have gone places. Still it stands as a knockout performance that truly infuses The Crow with action and melancholy. Ernie Hudson is also a shining light as perhaps the most honest and thoroughly loyal characters in the film. He possesses a level of positivity and gravitas that lends itself beautifully to The Crow; signifying that the world inhabited is awful, but some goodness remains. Villainy comes in the form of the formidable Michael Wincott . Utilising his raspy voice and tall stature to his advantage, he imbues Top Dollar with a vicious nastiness and unbridled devilry that’s thrilling to witness. You really revile the character because of how well Wincott inhabits him. Rochelle Davis provides winsome relief against the gloom as the lonely skateboarding girl who has learnt to fend for herself and has forged a deep connection with Eric. As the gang of nasty individuals who are picked off one by one, there is David Patrick Kelly, Angel David, Laurence Mason and Michael Massee. Each doesn’t have to really stretch dramatic muscles, but all really give their characters a feral nature that suits the bunch of criminals they portray. You also get the greatness of Jon Polito as an underhand pawnbroker and the imperious Tony Todd as Top Dollar’s head bodyguard turning supporting roles into something memorable with short screen time. Bai Ling, though extremely bewitching to look at, is saddled with not much of a part. She’s mainly there to show a twisted relationship between Top Dollar and his sister and not much else. Sofia Shinas, seen mainly in flashback, provides an almost angelic presence that shows just how much she meant to Eric.
Imaginatively action packed, darkly arresting and hauntingly gloomy, The Crow lives long in the memory of viewers owing to its take of vengeance and atmosphere of sadness that comes through.