Proyas, an Australian previously noted for his rock videos, here makes his American debut with the kind of flair that recalls the flashy arrivals of James Cameron and John McTiernan. And as a director of high-propulsion violence, Proyas is in the same class as his countryman George Miller, the maker of the Mad Max trilogy.
Filmmakers who get their start in MTV and commercials can generally be counted on for an obsession with style over substance. But - at least at the outset - they lack a sense of pace and a grasp of structure that are crucial to the best action films. Proyas has all the glossy style one could wish, and he clearly has watched and learned much from such landmarks as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Cameron's Terminator films. But he also brings a sensitivity to the subtext of myths buried in the script that helps The Crow to rise above the cartoon dialogue.
The Crow was inspired by James O'Barr's cult comic books, and its binding idea plays as a hip spin on the Orpheus myth. Rock musician Eric Draven (Lee) and his fiancee are murdered on Devil's Night before Halloween with a brutality that sickens even hardened Detroit detectives. The killers are part of an organized crime ring that operates without much interference from the law.
The riveting beginning of The Crow creates a sustained image of gothic urban decay that's every bit as striking as Batman's and probably at 1 percent of the expense. The story resurrects the folk myth that a crow transports the soul to the world of the dead and then is off on a new flight pattern. Draven was a man so much in love that his spirit can never rest until there is vengeance against the murderers.
What follows is your standard revenge saga of the rudimentary kind that Brandon's father, Bruce Lee, made his own. Draven, made up like a murderous mime and vaguely reminiscent of Michael Jackson, soars around the Motor City and finds inventively appropriate ways to exact his revenge. The pounding soundtrack urges him on his rounds.
Subtle The Crow isn't, and with blood flowing and eyeballs tossed onto tables, it's not for the squeamish. But it most definitely is for anyone who rejoices in sheer technical virtuosity and talent. After a long glut of action movies that look and feel the same and trot out the usual treadmill repetitions, it's a pleasure to welcome The Crow - a bird of a very different feather.
THE CROW * * *
Produced by Edward R. Pressman and Jeff Most, directed by Alex Proyas, written by David J. Schow and John Shirley, photography by Dariusz Wolski, music by Graeme Revell, distributed by Miramax/Dimension Films.
Running time: 1:40
Eric - Brandon Lee
Albrecht - Ernie Hudson
Top Dollar - Michael Wincott
T-Bird - David Patrick Kelly
Skank - Angel David
Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, profanity, drug abuse, graphic violence)
Showing at: area theaters