When you spend a lot of time in a car and live in a rural area, like I do, then it’s perfectly natural to see the occasional animal on the road that has come a cropper on the receiving end of two tonnes of Jap import to the face. In fact, I’ve played a significant part myself in the wholesale slaughter of Irish wildlife on the highways and byways, but I’ve never hit a wolf with a car and if I did, I wouldn’t get out of the car to see if I’d killed it. I’d reverse.
Wolf (1994) starts off innocently enough, when old and busted publisher Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) accidentally hits a wolf with his car one night. As he attempts to move the poor creature out of the road, the wolf springs to life, turns, and bites the hand that tried to kill it. Concerned about rabies and the like, Will visits his doctor who points out that the whole thing is a bit far-fetched as there are no wolves in New England, and that is was probably just a big dog of the more domestic variety that he splattered all over the tarmac with his car.
Will returns to work, where he is having a tough time of things. He’s a well liked and respected editor-in-chief of a publishing house that is in the final stages of being taken over by a company owned by billionaire businessman Raymond Alden (Christopher Plummer). Will is very much on the downward slope of his career and has tied his remaining prospects to the future of his one-time protégé, Stewart Swinton (James Spader), a young buck on the up and up who has promised Will that he’ll resign if Randall is forced out.
Alden hosts a big party out in his country mansion to which he invites his new employees for the purposes of letting them know their status after the buyout is complete. Randall is taken aside by his new boss and offered a demotion to the Eastern European part of the business in order to allow Swinton to ascend to the editor-in-chief job. Randall takes this badly and has a bit of a panic attack, terrifying some horses in the process, and making a bit of an eejit of himself in front of Laura Alden (Michelle Pfeiffer), his bosses “free spirit” of a spoilt brat daughter. Will and his missus Charlotte (no-one cares who played her), return home, with Charlotte far more pissed off about Swinton getting Will’s job than he is, which serves to show just how beaten Randall has become.
Randall then suffers a bit of a turn and sleeps for the best part of twenty-four hours. When he awakens he’s a changed man – he feels great, is full of energy, is fiercely competitive, and more interestingly his hearing, senses of smell and taste, and his eyesight have improved considerably. Deciding he’s not going to take the loss of his job lying down, he hatches a plot to screw over Swinton just as he discovers that Swinton has been screwing his bird, Charlotte. Now with the attitude of a man half his age, he bids his cheating bitch wife goodbye and, in a roundabout way, pursues Laura Alden. As the full moon approaches though, Will finds himself transforming more than just his attitude towards life.
Wolf is a film that’s very much split into two parts, much like the main character of Will Randall. For the first half it’s a subtle movie filled with the twisting intrigue and dirty tricks of the modern workplace, where people lie and, sadly, betray those dearest to them. In the second half, after Randall’s obvious fate as a werewolf is revealed, the film focuses more on what being a lycanthrope is like and the inevitable battle between those after Will and those interested in protecting him. The first part, where things are hinted at and a high value is placed on quality dialogue and character development, is excellent with sprinklings of film noir thrown in for good measure. The second part, where Will gets hairy, is kinda shit really.
From the opening credits you know that Jack Nicholson turns into a werewolf, it then takes all of about three minutes before you see him get bitten by the wolf and from then on any doubt about Jack’s fate is removed, and that makes the first two thirds or so of Wolf absolute genius. The way his personality changes as well as the physical effects that he experiences, like the improved senses, make for entertaining viewing, especially as you see him go after James Spader’s character with such venom but without any outward sign of the wolf within him having anything to do with it. Spader is quite the evil, twisting little bollocks in Wolf so you’re delighted to see Nicholson deal with him with style and panache. The dialogue is excellent and the story moves with the right pace and, despite all the corporate messing about, is never confusing.
However, once Jack sprouts hair out of his ears and starts running about the place like a droopy hunchback, the best parts of Wolf are over and all that remains is to see a bit of a fight and call it a night. The last act of the film is not a patch on the first two despite the continuing quality performances and ending that really isn’t all that bad. It’s just that Wolf could only end one way, with Nicholson howling at the moon for a bit, that there’s no big surprise nor is there much of a resolution, all that can happen is a foregone conclusion. In fact, it’s a bit of a shame that they had the werewolf bit at all as the story about the business at the publishers is great on its own and would have been a good movie if all that occurred was that Jack snapped and decided to deal with the shit in his life, as opposed to turning into a wolf.
The performances from the main men in Wolf are excellent with Nicholson and Spader kicking ass in every scene they’re in. Pfeiffer was nothing special, just like her character really, and it could have been anyone in the part of Laura Alden. Christopher Plummer as her Dad was excellent though, giving a master class in thinly veiled contempt.
There are some good lines in Wolf, and some magnificent scenes of banter and sometimes vicious but polite back and forth between adversaries, it’s such a shame that the script was crippled with an ending as predictable as the coming of the next full moon…
…but I still can’t bring myself to rate Wolf badly, as the first two thirds are so brilliant it’s still really worth seeing.
So, Two Thumbs Up for Wolf.