The Hellblazer comic is re-envisioned as the next Keanu Reeves franchise
by Marc Shapro
CONSTANTINE DIRECTOR FRANCIS LAWRENCE has no doubt that no matter how good a job he does on his cinematic take on the DC-Vertigo Hellblazer comic book character, fans will still be hyper-critical.
"There's no way I'm going to make everybody happy," says the director regarding the creative license that has been taken with the Hellblazer comic. "In this movie John Constantine doesn't speak (British), he's not blonde and the movie takes place in Los Angeles. That's going to piss a lot of the hardcore Hellblazer fans off. It just is."
However, Lawrence says that there was, likewise, a lot of things that drew him to direct the adventures of supernatural detective John Constantine that will totally captivate the hardest of hardcore fans.
"When I first came on this movie, I saw this as an interesting and different script," he says. "It goes to weird places and it has these great layers. And the heart of the character was definitely there. All of that was interesting to me."
Constantine, directed by Lawrence from a Kevin Brodbin and Frank A. Cappello script and based on the comic books and graphic novels of Garth Ennis and Jamie Delano, tells the tale of John Constantine, a man who has committed suicide and now wanders the world as he attempts to find the key to Heaven and eternal peace. In this story, based on the graphic novel Dangerous Habits with a bit of Original Sin tossed in for good measure, Constantine (Keanu Reeves) teams up with policewoman Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) to solve the suicide of her twin sister. This journey leads the pair to a world of demons and angels that exists just beneath the landscape of contemporary Los Angeles.
The movie, which also stars Djimon Hounsou and Shia LaBeouf, was filmed entirely on location in Los Angeles.
For Reeves, not too far removed from Matrix notoriety, the opportunity to play this tortured soul seemed too good to pass up.
"Well, for openers I ditched the English accent," he laughs. "I really love this guy. I love his anger and I love his wry sense of humor about the awfulness of the world, having to deal with that day in and day out and dealing with what it's turned him into. He's kind of like a warrior in this world of shit, just trying to deal with everything."
Reeves, who has rarely played anything but a good guy throughout his career, found much of appeal in the idea of playing a cynical a-hole in the film.
"Constantine is definitely not the nicest guy," says the actor. "This is a guy who committed suicide to get out of this world and now he's trying to find his way into Heaven. There's a lot on this guy's plate. He's struggling with his own nature and he's struggling to find a better life."´
Lawrence's approach to bringing the Hellblazer books to the screen in Constantine has meant choosing the road rarely taken in movies based on a comic book.
"My approach from the beginning was to never shoot this movie like a comic book movie," says the director. "That's all been done before. I don't think anybody's really topped Tim Burton's original Batman. But everybody continues to rebuild Gotham City and everybody continues to use the arch angles and bright colors. For me, the Hellblazer books were always kind of rooted in reality. I wanted to make this movie feel real and that seems to be what people are responding to. It's not hyper-real and hyper-stylized. It's rooted in gritty reality."
The director offers that another plus in the Constantine experience is that it will not be genre specific.
"There are plenty of elements of horror in this and plenty of scares," he adds. 'This is not a thriller, not a horror film and it's not a fantasy. It's just this weird blend of all these things."
When the dust settles, Constantine will boast an estimated 420 effects shots and the director states that it will run the gamut of the visual paint box. "There's rig removals, dot removals, all the way to complete environments that we've created digitally," reveals the director. "We've got characters and creatures that were built digitally. In fact, that's the way most of this world was created."
From an acting standpoint, Reeves has nothing but good things to say about Lawrence's directorial style, which the helmer says was influenced, in its more gritty moments, by the film Training Day.
"It's shot beautifully and it's amazing the way Francis' camera angles get you inside a scene," says Reeves. "He's really connected to the storytelling. It just all feels very fresh."
Both the actor and director are taking great pains to differentiate Constantine from the recent rush of comic book movies. They've hit the comic book convention circuit on a regular basis to preach the gospel of their creation, informing not just those who know the source material inside out but also the vast majority who think Hellblazer is about a cat named Pinhead. "When you try to do something different, you're always worried that people aren't going to get it," says Lawrence. "To be honest, I think that's why the studio decided to call this Constantine rather than Hellblazer. They just didn't want the confusion with the Hellraiser films, but I think every single fan knows this is the movie with John Constantine."