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Who’s Afraid of “Big Bad Wolves”? Me!

January 17, 2014

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It’s not hard to see why Quentin Tarantino called Big Bad Wolves the “best film of the year.” Much of the pitch-black Israeli crime comedy pays homage to Reservoir Dogs, as an alleged pedophile/murderer is tied to a chair and tortured by the father of one of his supposed victims while cheery pop ditties like Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” play on the soundtrack. Writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado restrain themselves from cueing up “Stuck in the Middle with You,” but the echoes of Dogs can clearly be heard and seen throughout Wolves.

Not that it’s a slavish ripoff: The film (which opens today in theaters and is available on VOD and iTunes) also borrows from sources as varied as the Coen Bros.’ Miller’s Crossing and Grimm’s fairy tales. Yet the Middle Eastern setting helps make it feel fresh. The supposedly grieving dad—who may be the big bad wolf himself, as we don’t know if the suspect is guilty until the film’s final shot—is periodically nagged via cellphone by his mother, who sends his father over to the “hellhole” of a house (near—horrors!—an Arab village) where he’s holding the accused, as well as the cop who tried to bust him, bound and gagged in the basement. Turns out dear old dad is an Israeli army veteran who remembers a few tricks with a blowtorch that tend to aid in interrogations. Who’s the big bad wolf now?

It’s all insanely entertaining, as Keshales and Papushado deploy delicious twists, enacted by a perfectly chosen cast, led by Lior Ashkenazi—a kind of Hebrew-speaking Clive Owen—as the detective. Big Bad Wolves is one of those Coen-esque movies that you keep shielding your eyes from, yet you can’t help peeking between your fingers to see what happens next. It’s also reminiscent of The Hunt, one of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Film, which also concerned a teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) who’s charged with child molestation. But, you know, funnier, in that you’re-laughing-to-keep-yourself-from-screaming kind of way.

One note on that Tarantino quote: It’s taken out of context. The full quote was “it’s the best film I’ve seen this year during the Busan International Film Festival” in Asia. So, in that spirit, let me say that Big Bad Wolves is the best film I’ve seen this year. The year being 2014. And the only other film I’ve seen so far being Ride Along. Still, it’s worth a $6.99 iTunes rental. Just don’t expect everyone to live happily ever after.

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