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A disaffected kickboxer and petty criminal struggles to survive on the mean streets of the Netherlands in Jim Taihuttu’s (Rabat) gritty drama which other than its exotic milieu could easily have been churned out by Warner Bros. in the 1940s. Boasting a charismatic performance by Marwan Kenzari in the lead role and striking black & white cinematography that recalls Raging Bull as well as its more vintage inspirations, Wolf traffics in all too familiar territory.
Kenzari plays Majid, a Moroccan immigrant and recent parolee who barely bothers to show up for his menial job at a warehouse. When his foreman raises predictable concerns, Majid beats him to a pulp and suddenly receives a glowing job report.
Supplementing his income with petty crimes that include blowing up ATMS, Majid lands a job as a sparring partner, where his fierce skills attract the attention of a crooked Turkish fight promoter (Cahit Olmez) who wants to groom him for bigger and better things. Even so, Majid’s violent tendencies tend to get him into trouble, such as when he brutally beats up a romantic rival (Werner Kolf) for his sexy girlfriend’s (Bo Maerten) wandering attentions. His level of criminal activity soon begins ratcheting up as well, leading to a violent armored car theft which results in the death of a security guard.
His personal life is equally troubled. His stern father (Abdelkrim Bahloul) has basically disowned him for his criminal proclivities; his mother (Baya Belal) clearly favors her other sons, including Majid’s younger brother who idolizes him; and his older brother is wasting away in a hospital from an unspecified disease.
Despite the plethora of melodramatic plot elements, the film remains curiously uninvolving due to its compendium of clichés and sluggish pacing. Despite the tortured family dynamics on display, Taihuttu’s screenplay lets the main character’s motivations go strangely unexplored, and despite his undeniable physical presence Kenzari’s performance lacks the depth to fill in the blanks. While the film certainly presents an rare portrait of the underbelly of Dutch society, it never manages to come to compelling life.
Opens May 23 (IFC Midnight)
Cast: Marwan kenzari, Nasrdin Dechar, Chems Eddine Amar, Raymond Thiry, Cahit Olmez, Bo Maerten, Abdelkdrim Bahloud, Baya Belal
Director/Screenwriter: Jim Taihuttu
Director of photography: Lennart Verstegen
Editor: Wouter van Luijn
Production designer: Like Scholma
Costume designer: Minke Lunter
Composer: Gino Taihuttu
No rating, 122 min.
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