Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(Dutch with English subtitles)
Directed by: Jim Talhuttu
Written by: Jim Talhuttu
Starring: Marwan Kenzari, Chemseddine Amar, Slimane Dazi & Steef Cuijpers
One of the best things about being a cinephile/freelance critic is that every so often, a movie will come out of nowhere and surprise me with the blunt force of a two-by-four to the face. That’s not the kind of violence you see in the dark crime drama WOLF, it’s actually an almost bloodless affair, but the story is fully loaded with heavy writing and themes that kept me engaged from start to finish. This Dutch drama might be seen by some as the ultimate homage to Scorsese’s older work, but it’s clear that Jim Talhuttu knows what he’s doing behind the camera and has crafted a little film that’s worthy of celebration.
Majid has been released on parole into his black-and-white nowhere suburb in the Netherlands. It’s clear that his stint in prison has not inflicted one bit of good upon his ways and he’s only gotten better at hiding his illegal misdeeds from his family. One day, Majid finds a sport that’s right for him: he’s making a name as a rising kick boxer. In his night life, he works as an enforcer for a group of criminals. This blending of one respectable profession with a thuggish one, doesn’t necessarily do any favors for Majid’s family life (he lives with his parents and his brother is dying from a terminal illness). Majid’s temper is getting the better of him as he juggles which of his two lives is more important. This is made even harder when an intimidating crime boss, The Turk, enters the picture with a high paying and illegal job.
The stark black and white visuals lends a classic feel to this modern crime drama. In fact, it almost feels like the film was taking place somewhere in the 50’s or 60’s until you see the modern technology (e.g. cell phones, top-notch guns) being used by characters. For a film juggling essentially three different plots in one film (a family dynamic, a sports drama, and a crime film), WOLF intertwines all of the events by seamlessly stringing them in a way where each subplot lends some element to the ones around it. Though the film does have a few violent moments, it never goes into gory areas. We never see Majid putting someone’s head in a vice (Joe Pesci style) or watch an execution go down in a bar. There are a couple of moments that are intense, but nothing to the degree that one might expect from a gangster film. It sounds odd, but it’s a little refreshing to see a dark crime drama that doesn’t rely on showing the evil deeds. At the end of the day, WOLF could very well be seen as one giant character study of the complex Majid.
The only real issues I have with the film come into two areas (one small and the other big). Sometimes, the film can get a little over-the-top in artsy symbolism. The biggest offender of which is a hunting scene so obvious and forced it actually got a vocal “Really?!” out of me. It’s a small moment that adds nothing to the film, took me out of the story for a few minutes. This sequence seemed squarely added for a ego stroking. Otherwise, the scenes all match up in the same kind of tone and play out in a compelling way. The bigger problem is that Majid isn’t exactly the easiest guy to root for. His character doesn’t feel like Henry Hill in GOODFELLAS or Ace Rothstein in CASINO, but more like Tony Montana in SCARFACE. It can sometimes get downright annoying to watch an asshole run the criminal world for three hours if there isn’t a shred of humanity to him. I actually think WOLF excels in giving Majid a little more of a soul, but it doesn’t reveal itself until the last 30-40 minutes. By that point, his character might have turned some people off from finishing the rest of the movie. I also thought the conclusion was poetic perfection that doesn’t spell everything out and tells you all you need to know before leaving a couple of ambiguous touches.
WOLF is definitely not for everyone. If you don’t like crime movies, then you should probably count yourself out of this film (even though it’s not graphically violent). Majid is a difficult character to get behind, but there’s enough of a human being shown in the last act that it dares the viewer not to throw a bit of emotion his way. The story also might not be the most original thing in the world, but it’s assured and confident the whole way through. WOLF is a professional, classy, old-school (with some new technology) crime drama that really knocked me flat (much like Majid does to anyone standing in his way). Excellent movie!