It may have too many costumes (and minutes of celluloid) for kung-fu fans, and too much action for the period piece crowd, but the French hit Le Pacte des Loups is a stylish visual exercise, full of gristle and vigor, by anyone's standards. In some ways the film Peter Hyams' The Musketeer could have been, in others resembling the gritty swordplay milieu of John McTiernan's The 13th Warrior, Christophe Gans' Brotherhood of the Wolf (as it is known in English) may best be categorized as a child of the post-Matrix era. With freeze-frame action that shifts abruptly in and out of slow motion, and a wandering camera that skims snow-swept hills and rainy forests, it's a restless film that convincingly applies space-age visuals to 18th century France. The plot strays from coherence on more than one occasion, structurally scattershot, but to the credit of screenwriters Gans and Stephane Cabel, most of the loose ends wrap up by the close. The virtuosity of the fisticuffs and swordplay, including some surprise weaponry and booby traps that seem more like big-budgeted Hollywood creations than products of French cinema, should please those looking for some fancy ass-kicking. Where Brotherhood of the Wolf stumbles a bit is in trying to straddle too many genres. It can't blend the standard scares of a monster movie with the quill pens of a costume drama and the roundhouse kicks of a Hong Kong actioner without seeming a little exhausted by the last of the 143 minutes. Still, it's difficult to watch the characters using various weapons to annihilate pumpkins, the pulp splattering hither and non, without cracking a grin at the audacious visual energy of it all.
by Derek Armstrong review