Big Bad Wolves Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Released by Magnet Releasing
Written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
2013, 110 minutes, Not Rated
Lior Ashkenazi as Micki
Rotem Keinan as Dror
Tzahi Grad as Gidi
Doval’e Glickman as Yoram
I remember several years ago I was at my parents’ house in Virginia and I overheard my mother watching an episode of The O’Reilly Factor. Dennis Miller was on the show and was guest commenting about Warren Jeffs, who at the time was defending himself in court against child sexual assault charges stemming from his polygamous marriages to girls as young as 12 years old. In expressing disdain and disgust at Jeffs, Miller remarked that in this day and age of such political correctness, there are still people who understand that “the compromising of the innocent is still the ultimate wrong in the universe.” I’m neither a fan of O’Reilly nor Miller, but it was that phrasing that for some reason struck me as both eloquent and accurate. I only even mention this because that sentiment resonated with me as I watched the Israeli revenge thriller Big Bad Wolves, which involves an unspeakably brutal crime committed against a child, and a group of men who go far beyond the boundaries of law and politics to seek justice.
After a young girl goes missing at the start of the film, the prime suspect, a meek schoolteacher named Dror (Rotem Keinan), is set free when his beating from overzealous cop Micki (Lior Ashkenazi, who looks almost distractingly like a tough Steve Carell) ends up on YouTube. Micki is suspended from the force but vows to prove Dror’s guilt by any means necessary after the girl’s body is found raped and beheaded. On a similar but much more personal mission to kidnap Dror and torture him into confessing is Gidi (Tzahi Grad), an Israeli army veteran and father of the murdered girl. With none of the men aware of the others’ intentions, they all collide in ways that none of them planned for or expected.
Wolves easily could have been made as another in the long line of Asian revenge films like Oldboy and I Saw The Devil, and we get some proper insight and development of the characters individually before they inevitably – and violently – come together at the start of the film’s second act. Unlike those other films though, here there’s no clear hero and villain. Dror maintains his innocence throughout the film, so we are kept off balance about his guilt until the very end, thus making us more conflicted about the interrogation-cum-torture scenes and unable to thrill at a bad man getting a deserved comeuppance.
Writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado made the 2010 film Rabies, a survival thriller that was erroneously billed by a lot of people as a slasher film. While that movie isn't great, it is competent enough for a first effort. Here, though, they really step up their game and show an impressive maturation as filmmakers and storytellers. They use admirable restraint in what they show us, and where other films might have depicted the heinous catalytic rape and murder for shock value (we only see the aftermath out of focus and from a distance), we instead hear Gidi read the gory details of the crime out loud in the form of a “children’s story” from a police report. The way that he clinically recounts his own daughter’s torture and murder is incredibly effective and more disturbing than anything the directors could have come up with to show on screen.
The harsh and brutal material (and there’s quite a bit) is diffused by a surprisingly frequent amount of deadpan humor, derived mostly from the interactions between the onscreen characters (Dror’s interrogation, for example, is put off while Micki and Gidi casually argue about who gets first crack, so to speak, at breaking Dror’s fingers). We also get some very entertaining situational comedy as minor unforeseen events – but plausible ones that never feel like cheating – throw major complications into what begins as a relatively simple plan. This blend of dark humor, stark violence, and the classic unraveling of “best laid plans” is reminiscent of some of the best work of Joel and Ethan Coen, who struck a similar balance in films like Blood Simple and Fargo.
While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with Quentin Tarantino’s proclamation that this was the best film of 2013, it’s definitely up there in the top few. If you can handle the dark and often unpleasant subject matter – and of course, if you don’t mind reading subtitles – Big Bad Wolves is a hugely satisfying watch.