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Review: Wolves

Wolves
02.28.2017
7 10

PLOT: A star teenaged athlete (Taylor John Smith), hoping to land a Cornell scholarship, has to contend with his abusive father (Michael Shannon), whose gambling debts threaten to unravel his family and quash his dreams.

REVIEW: Bart Freundlich’s WOLVES is showing up on VOD and theaters this week without much fuss following its Tribeca Film Festival premiere. Boasting performances by Michael Shannon and Carla Gugino, one would have imagined it getting more buzz – especially with it being a solidly engrossing drama that shines a light on sports bookmaking in a much more authentic way than the recent Mark Wahlberg/GAMBLER remake.

That said, one can’t help but feel writer-director Freundlich has taken the easy way out here by making Shannon’s gambling addict father so despicable. A repulsive, abusive dad from the start, he’s got a chip on his shoulder due to his son living out his foiled athletic dreams, while he works as an English professor (just like in both versions of THE GAMBLER) and gambles away his earnings on dumb bets.

Given that he’s utterly without charm, it’s a stretch to imagine his cultured wife, played by Carla Gugino, sticking around even after he bloodies his son’s nose on the pretext of showing him a basketball move. Shannon can play anything and being in full scumbag-mode here, he’s utterly loathsome, but there’s a more interesting tale that could have been told. Had Shannon been sympathetic, or had his son actually loved him rather than simply needing to escape him, this would have been a less neat and tidy flick, and more memorable as a result.

Alas, you can’t really punish a movie for what it’s not, and for what it is, WOLVES is very decent. Young Taylor John Smith is a likable lead, being unique in that he’s an athlete that, for once, is also shown to be a good student and humble. He tries to get along with everyone, even his dad, but given his star status and his dad’s need to clear a 200k debt to a tough bookie, it’s not hard to see where this is going – with the fantasy, eighties-flick ending predictable but enjoyable.

Freundlich, who’s an indie vet, has assembled a top-drawer cast, including Gugino, and Chris Bauer as Shannon’s best pal, who proves to be a more stable, paternal influence for the boy. Famed stage actor John Douglas Thompson fares best of all as street-basketball player Socrates, a former pro who gives Smith some tough love, and tries to help him avoid making the same mistakes that cost him his career and left him a near derelict. Also look for “Atlanta”’s Zazie Beetz as James’s true-blue girlfriend.

WOLVES ultimately may be a simple underdog story, done in a straightforward, uncomplicated way, but it tells a good yarn and the performances elevate it. Fans of Shannon and Gugino would be well-advised to check it out. It’s a minor, under-the-radar, gem.

Source: JoBlo.com

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