Raindance Film Festival – Wolf – Review ★★★

Majid (Marwan Kenzari) and Adil (Chems Eddine Amar) are peering through a shop window debating the quality of mopeds on display. Two young drunken Dutch men unwittingly join their conversation, as well as giving reasons why Tuesdays are the best nights of the week, and depart leaving an amused Majid and Adil. They then smash through the window and claim a moped, only to hear the alarm cease and rush back to grab the other.

This prologue sets the tone of where our tale of the toughened first generation Dutch-Moroccan immigrant Majid, a petty criminal residing in a Dutch inner-city, whose life becomes increasingly hostile and complicated takes place. Majid’s journey, as with many films set in the criminal underworld, is based on luck, bad decisions and opportunities. It’s as formulaic as one can expect; Majid is hostile towards authority, his father isn’t proud of him so Majid seeks a substitute in a local Turkish gangster who provides a seemingly glamorous easy-money lifestyle, he has potential as a semi-professional kickboxer to work his way out of this environment, and he has a tumultuous relationship with former girlfriend Tessa (Bo Maerton). It’s scenes like the aforementioned prologue scene that keep this film entertainingly fresh as they’re packed with surprises, wit and solid characterisation.

The vast majority of characters in this environment suffer from the same issue of poor forward thinking and inherent selfishness. It’s this cultural attitude within the film that prevents what could’ve been a formulaic script into something refreshing. While many other criminal films have a wise-character, aware of the plight and heed advice to the troubled protagonist, this film lacks one which is not a disservice. Nobody’s wise in this world; the closest we get is Majid’s kickboxer trainer, and even he says the wrong thing only to antagonize the hostile Majid. In short, writer-director Jim Taihuttu has written a script that prevents such predictable stagnation in this familiar formula.

Taihuttu also shows flair as an intelligent filmmaker knowing when to use the shaky-cam style for a more visceral experience and when to hold back for shocking revelations. It’s in these visual choices that keeps the flow of the narrative smooth and in equal parts engaging.

The most obvious comparison many critics have noted for this film is La Haine, with a similar bleak environment and monochrome photography, but while that was interested in class divide and a new culture bred from first/second generation immigrants, Wolf is much more interested in telling a straight criminal underworld story and leaving such commentary to the side.

For those expecting social commentary on Arab immigrants residing in inner-city Holland then they’d be sorely disappointed. Taihuttu’s run with the criminal formula and rather than break any new ground has opted to utilise Marwan Kenzari’s on-screen presence and charm to produce an intensely entertaining crime thriller. It’s packed with banter, wit and poor decisions from our characters that keeps each scene flowing and fresh.

Matthew Lee is an undergraduate student in the field of Film Studies at King's College London and a freelance film critic with keen interests in World Cinema, Cult Cinema and Silent Cinema.