The Crow: A Tribute To The Underappreciated Genius Of Brandon Lee

A love letter to Lee's final and arguably most pivotal performance in The Crow.
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A love letter to Lee's final and arguably most pivotal performance in The Crow.
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As a child born towards the end of the 80s I spent my more formative years influenced by my parents’ film collection. Absorbed in the fantasy worlds of Robin Hood, the man with no name, Batman and Bruce Lee movies, my heroes were vigilantes, gun slingers and Kung fu experts. Often to the dismay of my teachers and most likely illustrated in my childhood games, Bruce Lee, a man introduced to me by Dad was one of my first proper heroes. Raised upon the likes of Enter and Way Of The Dragon I was one of the few kids in the playground that would cite the latter’s end fight with Chuck Norris as his favourite movie scene over the theatrical ending of Aladdin or the fiery climax of The Jungle Book. It seemed only fitting then that at an early age I would also stumble across Bruce lee's tragic son Brandon whilst sifting through the post-divorce collection of VHS' that I’d inherited as an ill defined youngster. Being drawn in particular to one movie in question - The Crow.

This was a film my Dad had spoken to me about at length so even before my first viewing I felt well braced in the tales of the movies cult standing, its groundbreakingly accurate take on the graphic novel and the unavoidable tragic death of Brandon Lee through a firearm accident whilst shooting.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name by James O’Barr, it tells the story of Eric Draven. A man wrongfully murdered, who returns from the brink of the afterlife in order to reap vengeance on those that took his life. It's a text book fantasy tale, one that even as a child barely a teenager, I remember thinking slightly clichéd. Albeit with little understanding of what a cliché actually was. That didn't however take away from the mystique or potential of viewing such a film. Especially when it was a film that previously I'd been told to completely avoid until I was older – an instruction I obviously avoided one dreary summer holiday weekday.

Even today I believe that Brandon Lee as the reincarnated and vengeance stricken Draven is amongst the greatest and most honest portrayals of an action hero ever committed to celluloid.

It goes without saying then that upon first viewing I was completely and utterly blown away. I had literally never seen anything like it. Prior to this my construct of an anti-hero was Tim Burton’s Batman but The Crow, this was something else. For starters he was essentially one of the undead. Something that to a young mind was always going to raise him several notches higher than Michael Keaton in an unfeasibly tight rubber suit but it wasn’t just this. It was the performance of Brandon Lee that really struck a chord. He was from a different world; violent, occasionally sadistic and completely cold in his vengeance and yet at the same time he was relatable. He had weaknesses – further heightened by James O’Barr’s use of flashbacks to tell the back story – and despite all of his moments of rage and bloodshed, he was essentially good. Just like all the best heroes. Even today I genuinely believe that Brandon Lee’s portrayal of the reincarnated and vengeance stricken Draven is amongst the greatest and most honest portrayals of an action hero ever committed to celluloid.

Considering such a statement then, with the weight of Lee’s untimely and tragic death upon it, is utterly heartbreaking. Here was a man,that until then had only ever had moderate success and put down his most startling, memorable and arguably breakthrough performance in a film that he didn’t even finish. He shouldn’t have even escaped the shadows of his father if we are to base it on the usual rule book but in this film he completely eclipsed him. At the time and even now it’s easy to romanticise this to an almost Cobain-esque quality in the scope of untapped talent – something that doesn’t necessarily sugar the pill, let alone give any just credit to Lee.

The Crow was a defining film of the 90s, that without which we would have doubtlessly never seen the seedy worlds of Sin City, the fast paced action of The Matrix or even Nolan’s dreary revival of Gotham City. Brandon Lee’s Eric Draven is to my mind, the steel bar wrapped in barbed wire that every hero with an inch of depth has had to match since and it’s a complete travesty that we never got to see his next act. But at the very least, and it’s a stark consolation, we will always have the, The Crow.

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