Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wolf (1994) * * ¾

Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) is a mild-mannered, middle-aged man who is a senior book editor for a publishing company. Driving home one night from a business trip in Vermont, he hits an animal on the road. When he gets out of his car to check on the condition of the animal, he discovers it to be a wolf, which bites him under a full moon. Randall is demoted from his job as managing editor of a publishing house when the company is taken over by wealthy business tycoon Raymond Alden (Christopher Plummer). Alden replaces him with Randall's own ambitious protege Stewart Swinton (James Spader), who also happens to be having an affair with Randall's wife Charlotte (Kate Nelligan).

Randall: I did it the old fashioned way.
Charlotte: What do you mean?
Randall: I begged.
Charlotte: I never loved Stewart. It was a mistake Will. I'm going to talk to him. Stewart, never for one moment, mentioned he loved me.
Randall: You think that makes it better? To betray me over and over again with a man that meant nothing to you? To know you betrayed me for nothing.
Charlotte: Don't be a smug...
Randall: Don't touch me! And keep away.

Randall begins undergoing a physical metamorphosis. He no longer needs reading glasses, his hearing is extremely acute, and he has a very keen sense of smell. He can smell tequila on the breath of a coworker from 20 feet away and hear conversations from across the lobby. Soon he starts feeling rejuvenated, revitalized, more aggressive, and becomes more assertive in fighting for his job back. Eventually, Randall also realizes that he is taking on the characteristics of a wolf. He is supported by his loyal secretary Mary (Eileen Atkins) and underling Roy (David Hyde Pierce), and gets his job back. Swinton is informed, in no uncertain terms, who is top dog. Randall also discovers that Charlotte has betrayed his love and devotion, causing him to leave her. It is a betrayal that is to have dire consequences for her.

Randall: I've been offered a choice between no job and a job no one would want.
Mary: Is the worm turning, Mr. Randall?
Randall: The worm has turned and it is now packing an Uzi, Mary.
Mary: It's about f**king time, sir.

Roy: How many investors do we have?
Randall: I don't know. Haven't called any yet.
Roy: But you want me to say it anyway?
Randall: Yes.
Roy: Second thing: Is any of this true?
Randall: Not yet.
Roy: You are my God.

Randall: You are such a polished ass kisser that it takes my breath away.
Swinton: I kiss 'em like I see 'em. (Randall urinates on his shoes) What are you crazy?
Randall: No! I'm just marking my territory, and you got in the way.

In the process of regaining his life, Randall falls in love with the boss's beautiful, headstrong daughter Laura (Michelle Pfeiffer), and she with him. The transformation of Randall into a werewolf is subtle, and there is very little use of special effects to enhance his metamorphosis. He conveys to the viewer what he is undergoing with a flick of the eyebrow, a twitch of the nose, and a curl of the lips. However, he also finds that he has the urge to hunt and kill at nighttime, and becomes terrified of the monster he carries inside. His first escapade as a wolf takes place at Laura's countryside cottage, where he wakes up in the middle of the night and hunts down a deer. In the morning he finds himself on the bank of a forest stream, dunks his head in water and realizes he has blood all over his face and hands. He then drives back to the city in a state of confused trepidation, his alarm at his animal characteristics leading him to ignore conventional medical tests.

Randall: What do you do?
Laura: Why do you care?
Randall: I don't. I was just making polite conversation.
Laura: I'd rather not discuss what I do.
Randall: You know, I think I understand what you're like now. You're very beautiful and you think men are only interested in you because you're beautiful, but you want them to be interested in you because you're you. The problem is, aside from all that beauty, you're not very interesting. You're rude, you're hostile, you're sullen, you're withdrawn. I know you want someone to look past all that at the real person underneath but the only reason anyone would bother to look past all that is because you're beautiful. Ironic, isn't it? In an odd way you're your own problem.
Laura: Sorry. Wrong line. I am not taken aback by your keen insight and suddenly challenged by you.
Randall: I've never loved anybody this way. Never looked at a woman and thought, if civilization fails, if the world ends, I'll still understand what God meant.

He visits an Indian healer, Dr. Vijay Alezias (Om Puri), who gives him an amulet intended to protect him from turning completely into a wolf. Alezias asks Randall to bite him as a return favor, as Alezias himself does not have long to live. On being asked by Randall whether he would "prefer demonization to death", Dr. Alezias replies that it would be a boon rather than a bane. He tells Randall that he is a good man at heart and so has nothing to fear. Dr. Vijay Alezias also explains that sometimes one does not even need to be bitten to change. Sometimes the mere passion of the wolf inside of them can transform them.

Dr. Alezias: The demon wolf is not evil, unless the man he has bitten is evil. And it feels good to be a wolf, doesn't it?
Randall: Indeed it does.
Dr. Alezias: Power without guilt. Love without doubt.

As his professional life is restored, Randall fires his young nemesis Stewart, deepening each others hatred for the other. Later, Randall inadvertently bites Stewart, who becomes a werewolf as well. Stewart ends up murdering Charlotte, in an attempt to frame Randall and seize back Randall's job at the publishing house.

Randall is shattered by his wife's murder, and thinking that it might have been his alter-ego state that killed her, goes back with Laura to her cottage, where he agrees to be locked up in the barn. Laura then gets a call from the police detective Bridger (Richard Jenkins) investigating Charlotte's murder, and learns that it was a canine attack that killed her. Alarmed that Randall might be the unknowing perpetrator, she goes alone to the police station to find out more. There she runs into Stewart, who makes an animal-like pass at her, revealing himself to also be a werewolf. Laura hurries off from the station, making arrangements for Randall and her to leave the country.

Swinton: Good evening Miss Alden. May I call you Laura? Laura, if you scream, I'll kill you. I'll just... break your neck, okay? If you find me so attractive, how about me f**king you to death right now darling, how would that be?
Laura Alden: I don't know I'll have to try it.
Swinton: I'm not a fool, Laura.
Laura Alden: I know that.

Swinton realizes that she has gone back, and follows her to the cottage and kills her two guards. After a brief struggle in the barn, where Randall is locked in, he tries to rape her. But Randall frees himself from his stall, and they battle as werewolves. Evil Swinton is then shot to death by Laura. Randall, meanwhile, turns into a complete wolf and runs off into the forest. Laura shows signs of a wolf's heightened senses when the police arrive, telling the lead detective that she can smell the Vodka on his breath. The last scene is a close-up of her face fading into dark, lupine eyes, preceded with previously-shown shots of an animal running wildly through the forest. It's a peculiar but great finale with a twist.

Jack Nicholson becomes a werewolf in this bizarre comedy-horror film directed by Mike Nichols. This is a contemporary thinking person's werewolf movie. If you are a horror film fan who likes excessive gore, as well as high-tech special effects, this is not the film for you, as there is very little of that in WOLF. This is a subtle, multi-layered, symbolic horror film that will leave you analyzing what you see. The opening sequences are beautifully filmed, and the moon and snow look gorgeous. It's an intelligent, literate story about a mid-life crisis and an interesting updating of the werewolf nonsense.

Film critics generally like it, but many viewers seem to find it dull and uninteresting, with elements of several genres thrown together in a big mess. It's a little dull in places, and probably could have been edited down by at least fifteen minutes. WOLF is much more intelligent than other werewolf movies, and does have a few interesting ideas and metaphors that haven't been done before. This thriller doesn't have any transformation scenes. When the hero turns into a humanoid wolf, he suddenly has muttonchop sideburns and his hair is messed up.

The cast also includes: Eileen Atkins (Mary), Ron Rifkin (Doctor), Prunella Scales (Maude), Brian Markinson (Detective Wade), Peter Gerety (George), Bradford English (Keyes), Stewart J. Zully (Gary), Thomas F. Duffy (Tom), Tom Oppenheim (Butler), Shirin Devrim (Party Guest), Allison Janney (Party Guest), Kirby Mitchell (Party Guest), Madhur Jaffrey (Party Guest), William Hill (Party Guest), Cynthia O'Neal (Party Guest), Timothy Thomas (Party Guest), Lisa Emery (Party Guest), Leigh Carlson (Party Guest), Alice Liu (Party Guest), Max Weitzenhoffer (Party Guest), Irene Forrest (Office Worker), Jennifer Nicholson (Office Worker), Jack Nisbet (Office Worker), Dale Kasman (Office Worker), Jeffrey Allen O'Den (Office Worker), Jose Soto (Gang Member), Van Bailey (Gang Member), Dwayne McClary (Gang Member), Elizabeth Massie (Alden's Secretary), Joanna Sanchez (Receptionist), Eva Rodriguez (Maid), Lia Chang (Desk Clerk), Starletta DuPois (Victim's Mother), Oz Perkins (Cop), David Schwimmer (Cop), Christopher Birt (Cop), Kaity Tong (TV Newscaster), Dorinda Katz (Shopper), Rawleigh Moreland (Party Guest / Publisher), and Michael Raynor. The original music was composed by Ennio Morricone. Jim Harrison and Wesley Strick wrote the screenplay. Mike Nichols directed.

The casting is inspired, the storyline is intelligent, and the pace alternates appropriately between day and night. What ultimately cripples WOLF is that the script seems to dry up as it goes along. There is a scene with the expert about half way through the movie that is filled with potential plot developments. Unfortunately, the internal logic soon begins to break down. Many of the possibilities suggested earlier never emerge and new random elements appear as the plot begins to spiral out of control, ending in a series of confrontations that are unsubtle, unsatisfying and weak.

Sophisticated to a point, this well-executed werewolf tale works due to its clever setting and enormous star power. Director Mike Nicholson keeps the action alive in the first half but the film peters out at the end with cheap theatrics and the overuse of slow motion. Michelle Pfeiffer has little to do as simply the love interest with a grittier than average personality. Better is James Spader as a smarmy colleague. Nicholson is in fine form, relying on his acting skills to spark interest instead of using make-up. Giuseppe Rotunno's sweeping camerawork sets the mood quite well.

Music for the movie was by Ennia Marricane. Editing was done by Sam O'Steen with distribution and production by Columbia Pictures. Filming locations were the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, the General William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster, California, New York City, New York, Long Island, New York, Sony Picture Studios, Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York and Roxbury, Vermont. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. holds the copyright to the movie.

WOLF was released to US theaters on June 17th, 1994, with a run time of 2 hours and 5 minutes. The movie's gross at the box office was $65,002,597 domestically and $131,002,597 worldwide, while making another $34,000,000 on US rentals. The budget was $70,000,000. WOLF was initially delayed for six to eight months due to poor critical reaction to the third act. After re-shoots, however, critics thought the ending was more satisfying and thrilling.

The movie was released in South Korea on July 23rd, 1994, Argentina on August 4th 1994, the UK on August 26th, 1994, the Netherlands on September 1st, 1994, Finland on September 2nd, 1994, France on September 14th, 1994, the Phillipines on September 14th, 1994, Germany on September 15th, 1994, Australia on September 22nd, 1994, Spain on September 30th, 1994 and Sweden on September 30th, 1994. It also premiered on TV in Indonesia on January 15th, 2005.

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