Thursday, June 28, 2012
I know what you're thinking here I go again with yet another werewolf film but this is a little different from the films I have talked about in the past. Yes based on the title a man does turn into a werewolf but that word is never really mentioned in this film and the mythology is completely different. Yes Rick Baker of An American Werewolf fame is in charge of the special effects make-up but this is a film that is a sophisticated look at the inner struggle of good and evil in all people against the primeval animal in all of us. Okay we'll get into that later but let's just look at the story first.
What's The Plot?
Will Randall is the aging editor-in-chief of a publishing house with a seemingly charmed life. His marriage is stable and he is worshiped by his employees but that all changes the night he accidentally hits a wolf in the middle of Vermont. After the wolf bites him, Will's life begins to unravel as he begins to change. First, his younger protege Stewart Swinton takes advantage of his mentor's diminishing skills and uses this to impress the publishing house's new owner Raymond Alden, who then demotes Will. The almost final blow is when Will, using his new heightened sense of smell, discovers that his wife Charlotte is having an affair with Stewart behind his back.
Stuff like this would probably destroy a normal man but Will is discovering that he is no longer a normal man as it seems the bite of the wolf has rejuvenated him. Now more aggressive, self-confident and revitalized with sexual energy, Will begins to try and outmaneuver Stewart to get his old job back and soon finds himself beginning a relationship with his boss' daughter, the headstrong yet jaded Laura. All of this seems to be a change for the better until Will starts waking up with blood on his hands and no memories of what his lupine side has done the night before which leads Will to think the worst when Charlotte is found murdered with canine DNA found on her body.
Turning to Laura, Will informs her that he is becoming a wolf and even though skeptical Laura decides to help Will try and fight the animal inside of him before it takes over completely. Is Will really turning into a wolf or is the primordial animal within him just trying to come to the surface? Could the bite of a regular wolf be changing Will or is it all just in his mind...a mind that is slowly becoming unhinged from reality?
Now most of the time when you think of werewolf films you think of a lot of blood and carnage...Wolf has no need for full out horror. It is more of a psychological level of horror although there is a little bit of blood and violent imagery but as we all know not even normal wolves are big cuddly dogs so to show that animal change Will undergoes when the wolf characteristics emerge is needed. Director Mike Nichols is no horror director and Wolf is not really a horror film to my standards it is more a psychological thriller that takes that werewolf motif and changes it to a modern age urban setting.
Will Randall is never shown to be evil and committing the things he does with intended malice just normal animal instinct that is aggressive when provoked. That said this is why this is one of my favorite performances of Jack Nicholson because it is believable and so low key compared to his normal over the top performances but Nicholson is by no means boring. As I stated in my blog post on The Witches Of Eastwick, Jack Nicholson to me is not an attractive man but he does have charm and since his character of Will is made a little more sexually energized thanks to being bitten by a wolf and exuding animal magnetism, it kind of fits here.
Speaking of The Witches Of Eastwick, Nicholson is reunited with Michelle Pfeiffer his co-star from that film in Wolf where she plays the world weary Laura Alden. They both have chemistry together obviously and work well alongside each other and of course, Michelle Pfeiffer is always an amazing actress. Her portrayal of Laura is an identifiable character for me as she is sort of withdrawn and sullen which I can sometimes be but she is also sometimes hostile and rude which I can be if pushed the wrong way I won't deny it. Even though Michelle Pfeiffer has done some comedy it's her dramatic work that I always fancy and it is why I love her here in Wolf as the dramatic actress playing a character who is headstrong and by no means just there to be a doe-eyed love interest for Jack Nicholson's character.
James Spader as Stewart Swinton is there to do what he does best: playing a character who is a smarmy, manipulative douche bag who seems to have some sort of psychological need to be well...an asshole. Now in real life I hear James Spader is a very nice guy and I guess it can be fun as an actor to play the guy everyone hates and if any actor is good at that it is Spader. Stewart is kind of the opposite of Will as he is more attractive but his aggressiveness is more manipulative and petty in nature and kind of makes him the evil counterpart and more of a villain on a human level than even Will at his most animalistic point (oops I think I just gave you a spoiler right there.)
Other actors to note are of course the charming Christopher Plummer as Laura's father and Will's boss. Not a lot of screen time but when he is on screen, Plummer's presence is always one of class and he seems to be having fun even though it may not look like he is. Also of note is a small role played by David Hyde Pierce, who plays another one of Will's proteges but with a more loyal appeal, and like always Pierce is charming and shines in the small bit of screen that he inhabits. Notice that I have said that most of the actors are charming in this film? That is why Wolf works the way it does it uses the werewolf motif in a high class way that doesn't rely on over the top horror. Mike Nichols is a respected director so it makes sense to have respectable actors doesn't it?
Kate Nelligan plays Will's cheating wife Charlotte and even though her acting is not to be questioned, I find I don't really like her character that much. Granted she does get killed and is shown to be guilty for having an affair, Nelligan's Charlotte is kind of a cold woman who seems to have just jumped in bed with Spader's Swinton because he is younger and more attractive and only seems to turn back to her husband because the wolf in him has made him more sexually appealing in bed. It seems to me that Will is better off without her so that of course leaves poor Kate Nelligan, a great movie and stage actress, playing a character I really have no sympathy for in a role in which she plays marvelously.
So being a werewolf fan, I like Wolf for being different from the normal horror portrayal and the story is engaging with drama, fine acting and direction from a Hollywood master. For a horror fan, I can say that Wolf is pleasant to watch if you want a small break from gore but is still suspenseful enough to watch to get your adrenaline running. Of course, I don't blog about movies that I hate so I think that Wolf is a must see film for anyone whether you like horror or drama or you just happen to be a Jack Nicholson or Michelle Pfeiffer fan and have yet to see this movie. If you ever come across this film, I highly recommend giving it a shot.
Next Blog: I sometimes don't like to play to convention of talking about certain movies when it seems appropriate that I should. Since I love you, dear readers, so much you all deserve a little...Valentine