The buzz surrounding director Jim Taihuttu exploded when he announced his second feature film Wolf. Working in the same building where the casting agency was located during his casting call; I got all the ins and outs surrounding the project. Needless to say, I was excited to watch his crime thriller Wolf. His feel-good road trip debut Rabat only showed one side of the reality of the second generation of Dutch-Moroccans in The Netherlands. In Wolf, Taihuttu flips the script and shows the boys on the other end.
The film revolves around Majid (Marwan Kenzari), a Dutch-Moroccan parolee, who lives with his family in Utrecht and works at an flower auction warehouse in order to rehabilitate him back into society. His home life remains fractured with tension. A father (Abdelkrim Bahloul) who is embarrassed by his sons track record and extracurricular activities, outside pushing the clock at the flower warehouse, while his mother (Baya Belal) is caught in the middle. A younger brother (Mohammed El Mimouni) who puts Majid on a pedestal and tries to follow in his footsteps, though Majid lectures him to stay on the straight and narrow. His elder brother Hamza (Nasrdin Dchar) is fighting for his life in the hospital. In order to earn some extra money to help pay for Hamza’s medical care Majid turns to kickboxing and high profile robberies.
The imagery and themes in Rabat were vibrant, colorful, encouraging and underlined the importance of friendship with all its ups and downs. Wolf is gray, rough and depressing but has an unmistaken authenticity about immigrants in the Netherlands. The film concentrates on survival and friendship is viewed with suspicion. Stylistically, Wolf is shot in black and white which in combination with the subject associates with Italian neorealism: the life of Majid takes place between anonymous blocks, drudgery at the flower auction warehouse and the grainy reality of the kick boxing gala’s. Even though Taihuttu decided to go for rather cliché images in black and white to portray the gritty world of the protagonist. It is a tribute to director of photography Lennart Verstegen who via his handheld camerawork creates beautiful visuals and gets a nice texture from the play of light and shadow.
On the page, Wolf could be an interesting character study, an attention-holding thriller and realistic portrait of the underworld that slumbers in the Dutch suburbs with outcasts who are slipping through the creaks of the system and society. Unfortunately, Wolf uses too much genre tropes to fulfil the promise it holds on the page. Taihuttu does try to depict the cultural tensions between different generations, rich and poor and the variety of all the different ethnicities in a realistic light. However, Taihuttu’s choices in the script make the film go from promising to run of the mill crime thriller. The scenario carries too much additional drama with a dying brother, a jealous boyfriend, a cheating girlfriend, and a number of rival criminals. When the film is increasingly transformed into an entertaining crime film, the character of Wolf disappears into the background in favor of customary ingredients such as an criminal environment consisting of shakedowns, robberies and coke dealing and snorting. All perfectly set to an hip-hop soundtrack. At raging speed it becomes La Haine crossed with Un Prophète. Some of the actions and plot twists feel illogical.
Marwan Kenzari spent two years getting ready in the gym for the role of Majid… and it shows. His acting chops in combination with his martial-art skills bring depth to his rather formulaic character. Majid has huge anger-management issues, yet Wolf beats around the bush without delving deeper into his anger which are rooted in the immigrant experience in the Netherlands. However, Majid’s gait is marvelously cultivated by Kenzari when we see him walk. The struggles are not just depicted in anonymous buildings and the hopelessness of his surroundings but within his body. He shows some tenderness that is a beautiful contrast with the sentiment and violence in the film. Kenzari’s portray of Majid reminds me of Matthias Schoenaerts breakthrough role in Bullhead. Alas, Wolf is a different film.
Wolf is an honest effort of director Taihuttu who wants to depict the other side of society. The immigrants who struggle to fit in and who try to find their place in a society they don’t belong to. Taihuttu tries to weave the three contradictory characteristics of Majid into a complex character throughout the movie: Majid as an kickboxer, Majid who tries to keep one foot in front of the other in order to set an good example for his younger brother, Majid who enjoys his illegal activities on the street. Throughout the film Majid is often hit in his mental solar plexus: his pride. It is his weakest spot which will eventually settle his fate. It is a testament to Marwan Kenzari and his input to create Majid as authentic and truthful as possible that the film held my attention. Wolf is a well-made film but never upholds its promise. In the end: Wolf packs a soft punch.
Giselle enjoys googling random things like it’s academic research but her grandma Hilda had a premonition of a great future. So, there’s that.
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