A Review By Victor DeBonis
IMPORTANT NOTE: The movie that this review is discussing is a more intense one than some may be used to viewing. Assault and particularly aggressive violence occurs in this movie. While I do wholeheartedly love this movie and will explain more why in the following essay, I know that every movie fan’s experience will always be different, and some will find specific content easier to view than others. Viewer discretion is advised if you have trouble with any of the aforementioned items above and decide to view this film after reading this review.
Thank you, and enjoy.
For those who are inspired by film or have been inspired by anything artistic, in general, I ask you to take a moment and think about what are the movies that awaken the artistic fire from within you. There have definitely been movies throughout my time that have reminded me of what makes me love the medium as I do and even made me see how something artistically can make an impact. I’ve mentioned “Heat” “The Godfather” and “Beauty and the Beast.” During the previous summer of the year that I’m writing this, I completed a thorough analysis and review of my current favorite movie of all-time “The Secret of NIMH” (Click the following link if you want to check it out for yourself: https://victordebonis.medium.com/why-the-secret-of-nimh-is-currently-my-all-time-favorite-movie-d2a6c506b59d ).
When the Halloween season arrives, there’s one movie that I often love to watch around this time of year that came from 1994 and, similar to the aforementioned films from above, it always finds new ways of amazing me with its craft. It’s not a monster film or a horror film per se, but it leaves a chilling mix of awe and bleak wonder from its presence. The movie, in question, is a heartfelt tribute to grief, to longing, and to love itself.
The film is called “The Crow.”
Early on in the movie, the audience follows this story of a legendary rock star by the name of Eric Draven (played to magnificent effect by the late-great Brandon Lee) and his fiancée who were both brutally murdered on Halloween night. When the rock star literally rises from the grave in search of the sadistic murderers who killed him and assaulted and murdered his wife, the camera temporarily shows his trembling hand through a first-person point of view that leads into his now-deserted home.
As the deceased musician stumbles through his former home, he, instantly, finds memories flashing through his mind of both the wonderful bond between him and his fiancée and the horror of the dreadful acts that were inflicted upon both of them. One of the elements that makes this movie shine and stand out from many revenge thrillers is through the powerful scenes chosen that flash back through his relationship. While other movies from this genre have certainly done this technique to advance the narrative, there’s a wonder to how they’re quickly shown but brim with chemistry from both Lee and the actress playing his fiancée.
Scenes, such as the playful moment of both of them messing up dinner before cheerfully deciding to head out to eat and the couple telling each other how much they love one another as they stay close, ring with a sincerity and passion that never flickers and is completely genuine. These scenes don’t occur for a vast amount of time, but they shine with the couple’s chemistry and the peacefulness with which they show on their faces when they’re in each other’s presence. These flashbacks are filmed entirely in bright-red, and the purpose of this color shown through these moments is to highlight the fierce intensity and passion that thrived between Draven and his fiancée in their powerful romance. The mere moment of Draven showing his fiancée her ring and her hugging him from joy is one of several scenes that are intercut with bright-white flashes and carry a joyous magic that the audience must see to truly believe and feel.
It also makes it all the more horrible when the quick flashbacks of the death of Eric and his fiancée are shown in uncompromising detail. Crude close-ups of the murderers’ devious faces, mixed with the woman’s devastated cries, are accompanied by tilting shots that paint a nightmarish image of the most despicable types of losers imaginable causing destruction to a couple so entrenched in a love that they could never know or understand. In spite of its quickness, the editing works superbly in selecting just the right moments and pacing to show the wonder of Eric’s love between him and his fiancée and how much he hates the people who killed him and the one that he loved the most.
The motivation and how far he is willing to go to avenge her and himself is made perfectly clear in both the most moving and disturbing way imaginable.
Part of why this movie speaks to me as well as it does is that it knows the importance of memories and how they play a fundamental part in reminding us how much it hurts when someone or something that we love is taken away from us. Memories may pop up in the times that we least expect or most expect. Regardless of when they arrive, they bring both the magic and horror that comes when that love or whatever made us most happy is stolen from us. And, part of the reason that these scenes resonate so well is that they’re edited with the same speed through which many memories, good or bad, sometimes occur in our minds.
Through my time, I’ve had important relationships in life as well that meant the most to me, and I’ve also endured tragic losses of those that I loved, including grandparents, our beloved family dog, and so on. In both cases, there was and always has been such a powerful joy when I stumbled upon the times that I smiled or hugged or helped someone that I really cared about who was in need of assistance, and that same strong joy flows through my soul in a way that not only feels wondrous but reminds me a bit of the wonderful people who have made what can be a tough world a little more bright and how important their presence in my life was and is. It can be all the more sad when I come across either remembering, for instance, the night that my family had to put our beloved beagle down or, in a few cases, experienced the grief from a relationship that ended in a way that neither benefited me nor the other person.
This movie spoke so much to me when I saw it at the late-night screening in the theater because, after experiencing loss in different ways, I look at this film as a wonderful piece of art that understands the harshness and bittersweet nature of grief and the power of love itself, especially through how it shines in an uncompromising world and environment.
It probably goes without saying, but Brandon Lee is simply fantastic in the main role. For those who might be unaware, this actor was the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee. Similar to his father, he possessed a power and intensity that is clear as day on-screen. However, Brandon maintains his own identity and significant impact through his performances as well, and he especially demonstrates that here. He can perfectly switch from wounded to darkly humorous to vicious to achingly sincere, and the raw hurt of what he’s experienced and lost is evident in every frame. And, when his fights and violent acts occur in this movie, Lee grits his teeth and moves with a speed and power that is impressive and perfectly matches the passion that drives his quest.
Furthermore, when he experiences an emotional moment or shares an insight about pain or appreciating life in its faint glints of joy, Lee speaks with a sincerity that is quiet and natural. He undeniably has his aggressive instincts, but his heart for who he cares about and lost clearly speaks through his stillness and his soft-spoken voice during his reflective moments. He’s everything that you want in a complex, intriguing antihero, and he plays a huge part in why this movie thrives as it does.
It should be noted that a tragic accident happened on the set of this movie that unfortunately took Brandon’s life, and it is heartbreaking to know that such a gifted talent was lost. Yet, his spirit and talent remains strong as shown through other films of his and especially his performance here, and, as much as I and other fans dislike that his life ended too soon in such an unfortunate way, I take comfort in knowing that his contributions through his artistry and talent allows his spirit and presence to shine strong and never disappear in this movie.
The character actors do great work in this movie as well. David Patrick Kelley maintains his raw edge and daring demeanor that he has often brought to almost any movie that he’s a part of, whether it’s “The Warriors” or 1995’s “Last Man Standing” and late-great John Polito disguises his frantic uncertainty with a sleazy nature that is entertaining to watch. Michael Wincott is mesmerizing as the main villain of this film. His voice booms beneath the shadows of his nightclub lair, and he walks around with the dominant authority of someone who could eradicate someone within a minute. He is the only other actor aside from Lee who owns every scene that he walks through, and he wields his weapons with a menacing charisma that makes him a more-than-compelling adversary for the main hero. Rochelle Davis as the child of the film, Sarah, is also terrific and believably voices a toughness and heart that is significant for her character.
I should take a moment and mention that the soundtrack to “The Crow” is in my top favorites from movies, easily. This film came out in the era when grunge and heavier rock music from genres were popular, and, while I didn’t see this film when it was originally released in theaters, I was already heavily invested with this decade’s style of rock, and the music was right up my alley.
Furthermore, all of the movie’s songs wonderfully illustrate the gritty and haunting atmosphere, and they do wonders in highlighting the thrills and emotional quietness when needed, too. Every time that Lee’s character runs and leaps from one rooftop to the next in the pouring rain, this moment’s intensity increases even more with the help of Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails sings in the background.
One of my favorite scenes of a heroic character getting ready to start his path is further enriched when the emotional song “Burn” from the Cure plays as the camera slowly zooms out to reveal the protagonist gazing out of the shattered window of his devastated home and starting his path for avenging the one that he loves and lost. For a story that centers around a legendary rock star on his temporary quest to fight for who he loved the most, the excellent songs further highlight the sheer power that music, in general, has to bring life to the darkest corners and fill it with strength, passion, and hope for further charging ahead.
Additionally, the composer of the musical score for this movie, Graeme Revell, deserves plenty of credit, too, for how he creates a rich, shadowy environment and tone that is ominous in many parts and surprisingly hopeful in a few areas. His orchestral music fills with booms and soft melodies from strings that echo the right mood for a story about a lost, damaged soul literally fighting to find peace.
On a personal note, this film also played a part in deepening my love for rock music because the way in which these bands and other musical talent used gritty rock and metal to depict the heavy emotions of this film helped me discover how well music, in general, could help tell a story and highlight the strong emotions thriving through something in general. When I first saw this movie in high school and was slowly starting to get into film, I was starting to see how music could further aid in the storytelling of a movie, and this was one of those flicks that played a huge part in that, and it’s yet another reason why I hold a deep amount of respect for it.
Director Alex Proyas excels with a vision that is haunting and unapologetically dark in every frame. The first-person point-of-view shot of what the titular crow sees as he swoops through the city is, perhaps, the perfect representation of this artist’s imagination. Notice how the camera swoops and tilts through blood-red skies with an intention of finding something or someone in the protagonist’s quest for revenge. Shots of gray cathedrals climb down from the top to the soaked cemeteries where deceased souls remain, and they paint a bittersweet portrait of a lost soul trying to find its way through a darkened world with hints of bliss or even hope through it.
From the establishing shots of the churches to the low angles that show the rivers of rain that flood the streets, Proyas and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski successfully collaborate in depicting a city that is as dreary and dirty as one can fathom but is still coated with a slickness and style that makes it feel every bit as alive as the characters that inhabit it. Through it all, Proyas visually knows how to bring this story and world to life with his dark vision, and he does it beautifully. He would, later, go on to direct the much-underappreciated 1998 film “Dark City” which also contains an authentically dark atmosphere and visually compelling world that always feels alive, and I loved seeing such a strong visionary and storyteller at work here as well. The action itself is aggressive, brutal, and inflicted with deliberate harshness. People die in menacing ways, and, without giving too much away, the main protagonist certainly makes specific people responsible for his death pay in ways that are unexpected and creative.
Thematically speaking, “The Crow” might not be one of the deepest films ever made. However, it’s a movie that is still insightful with the small truths that it communicates. It’s a movie that speaks about how it never rains all the time and how nothing is trivial, and, in essence, it’s a story that is partly about finding joy and hope through a dark world as well as trying to find solace or justice after a horrific or traumatic event has occurred. What sets it apart from other revenge thrillers are the performances, the visual style, the direction, the characters, and the intense emotions, both good and bad, that are depicted in ways that both feel unique and fierce to their core.
Similar to other stories that I watched in my journey of my love for film that include “NIMH” “Lost in Translation” and “Sideways” to name a few examples, “The Crow” is one of those that helped me to view the film medium as a genuine way of creating art, the type of art that could say something powerful and unique with its own voice. It is a work that genuinely helped me deepen my love for music, particularly the rock genre.
Above all else, “The Crow” is one of those stories that I believe could be meaningful to those who have lost a loved one through death or are grieving about something or someone beloved that is gone in an unexpected way.
Two years prior to the publishing of this review, the pandemic happened, and millions of friends and family members were lost in 2020 and the time that followed it. From time to time, I still think of my aunt who sadly died from COVID last year, and, in addition to missing her deeply, I occasionally think about how life might have turned out and what things would be like if she were still around and the pandemic had never occurred.
The world, in general, experienced death and grief at a pace and in a way that nobody could’ve expected. Death has been unusually common and frequent in the previous few years and especially around 2020. There are no easy resolutions to see how we will individually find our way through such a confusing period. While we may never discover the answers to why some of the ones that we love and treasure passed as they did, I believe, deep in my heart, that stories, such as this, will be meaningful to those who are trying to find comfort or truth as they have either started grieving for the loss of someone beloved or are still experiencing the grieving process. I would argue that “The Crow” is a more powerful story now than it already was before in this regard.
The comic book that this movie was based on was written by James O’Barr, and it was done as a way for him to deal with the death of his own fiancée. I read both the source material that this film is based on in addition to viewing this movie. I hope that he knows the positive impact that his story had on others, including myself, and, as a storyteller of sorts, I hope to tell stories of my own someday that deal with grief or a past event from my life as I have contemplated doing. This tale and how wonderfully it was written in both comic book and movie form is, in my eyes, a gold standard of taking something painful or traumatic from one’s past and trying to find hope or peace and transforming that experience into something powerful and even hopeful. I hope to tell my stories at least half as good as this tale was executed.
While nobody important has passed away in my life at the exact time of this review’s publishing, I have reflected on what it might mean for someone who has experienced a loss in something that doesn’t involve death, and I am wondering what it says to them about that loss. What might it say to someone who has experienced a loss in a relationship or someone who experienced happier times with someone before something unfortunate happened? Recently, I have been trying to cope with my own grief from a loss, and, while this loss thankfully didn’t involve death in any way, I am still trying to find healing and understanding in my own ways because I know that hurt came from this loss, and it wasn’t just on my end.
Re-watching this movie helped me reflect on more positive memories from previous times, particularly with past relationships and people who meant or mean a bunch to me, and the power that they can give to someone. Viewing this film at this time helped me see the sheer power that love can give someone and that, amidst a society that is often not understanding, it is important to, as Eric Draven wisely states, find joy in things, big and small, and not view them as trivial because we don’t know how the future will turn out or who may be lost or what may be lost in our own life stories. I am still working on overcoming my grief in my specific ways, and feeling the positive energy and thinking about what this film had to say about grief and loss in its own way was especially meaningful to me in this regard.
Regardless of what the time or circumstances are, “The Crow” will always soar high and majestically maintain its presence as one of my favorite films from the 90’s and one of mmy all-time favorite movies, in general, during Halloween season and any time outside of it.
Applause of approval accompanied the ending credits when I viewed it at a re-screening, and I didn’t hesitate in joining in.
This classic film wholeheartedly deserves it.