Constantine ★★★★½

Before I talk about how much I love Constantine, I suppose I should let you, dear reader, know how much I unironically adore Keanu Reeves. He is the dopey, introverted, tall, dark hunk of my dreams. His every oddly-delivered line is music to my ears and his bewildered, tortured face haunts my dreams. I love his movies. We all have shit we like that we can't necessarily explain. If I'm a bee, Keanu Reeves is honey. I'm picking up what he's putting down. I just love the guy. He's an actor of more nuance than he's given credit for, I'd argue, and is far more interesting than he might initially let on--he was a big part of the making of Side by Side, for instance, an essential and fascinating documentary comparing the current grapple between traditional and digital film that is ongoing in the movie industry--and has been in more perfect films than many an actor who's gotten more credit (Point Break, The Matrix, and the recent John Wick all come to mind). He's had a finger in pretty much every genre at this point, clearly unafraid of trying new things. But I digress.

Constantine is based on the Hellblazer series of graphic novels, the original character of John Constantine being a creation of Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette. John is a sort of occult detective and exorcist who was born with the ability to see supernatural beings, including angels, the servants of God, and demons, servants of the Devil. John is dying of lung cancer, but continues working against dark forces, hoping it will eventually gain him entry into Heaven despite information otherwise. The plot here is secondary in my opinion to the extremely interesting visuals often on display. I think many of the current films based on graphic novels and pop culture iconography (the slew of superheros films included) owe a lot to early-2000's movies like Constantine that weren't afraid to do something unusual with their design and characterization. There's a particularly odd scene where Constantine uses a cat as a conduit into the underworld, his feet submerged in a bathtub, that I just love for its defiant strangeness. These kinds of films just don't get made in Hollywood lately, which makes me treasure Constantine in all its oddball straight-faced glory. If you like genre movies, I feel this one really deserves a closer look. It has a singular vision of Hell, something most movies never dare attempt, and a surrealism that approaches postmodernism and elements of clever existential horror.

Including Reeves, this film features a staggeringly great cast and will serve as a timepiece for genre films based on offbeat comics (in the same universe as Hellboy undoubtedly, and the crew behind the upcoming adaptation of Sandman should take notes) to come, and how to choose actors for roles wherein they can show off. Tilda Swinton as Gabriel is a stroke of absolute genius, not only creating an archangel as seductive as they are otherworldly, but a being who is utterly androgynous; betraying how agender we really are when stripped of our obvious human qualities and societal expectations. I am an adoring fan of everything Swinton touches, but this is one of her great roles, and I stand by that belief to the end. Gabriel is mesmerizing, omnipotently cold, and utterly alien. They are the archaic and godlike, and only an actor as great as Swinton could pull it off.

Other greats: Djimon Hounsou is Midnite, former witch-doctor and morally neutral owner of a Papa Midnite's, a club that caters to angels and demons alike, Shia Lebeouf is Constantine's still-wet-behind-the-ears assistant Chas (this is pre-Transformer Shia, and he is both delightful and innocent), Rachel Weisz is haunting as Angela, a police detective attempting to unearth the cause of her twin sister's suicide, and the great Peter Stormare (soon to be Czernobog in Starz's upcoming American Gods--they must have seen this before casting him) is Lucifer himself. In the deleted scenes you'll even discover that Michelle Monaghan had a role as a demon who Constantine is having a liaison with, though sadly her part was cut for reasons unknown. I wish they'd left her in, as it would have given Constantine more ambiguous internal conflict (and I fucking love her). And that's what his character is really about, the gray between the concept of Heaven and Hell, the balance and essential nature of the in-between. When they proclaim this to be a cult classic in another ten years, I'm gonna say I told you so.