by Chris Parry
An Inuit Eskimo takes a fancy to an Eskimette. So does his father, who also happens to be chief of the village. Power struggle ensues and the kid, having kicked his dad’s hiney, must leave the village with his wife and fend for himself in the cold winter of the northernmost side of the planet. While he’s doing so, if he’s to survive he’ll have to fight polar bears, wolves, and the most evil enemy of all – the white man.It’s always tough to shoot a movie on location. For Gorillas in the Mist, don’t think the production went like clockwork tucked away in the Kenyan jungle. Kevin Costner’s Waterworld nearly sent financiers broke with it’s need for ‘host on water’ scenes. Spielberg’s Jaws did likewise. Apocalypse Now nearly didn’t make it into the can being as the Asian-based production had to battle disease, war, out of control budgets and a host of other problems. So when a filmmaker needs to base a movie on the remote Inuit people, then stages the thing in the 1930’s and opts to shoot the thing in the bitingly cold Northwest Territories of Canada, he’s just inviting disaster. Fortunately, Shadow of the Wolf, to the credit of the filmmakers, isn’t a disaster. But it came close.
"Much good, but so much 'not so good'."
Potential disaster number one – casting. Actually, mark this as potential disasters numbers one, two and three, because the casting directors here and clearly taking the piss. First off there’s Lou Diamond Phillips as Agaguk. For the uninitiated, Lou Diamond is part Cherokee, part Hawaiian, part Chinese, part Spanish and part Scotch-Irish. No part Inuit. But hey, you need a name in your cast to sell tickets, so we can let that one slide.
But then there’s Japanese action legend Toshiro Mifune as Kroomak, Agaguk’s father and chief of the village. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Mifune more than any other actor in history. He’s the freaking man. But he’s not an Inuit. He’s not even close. And then there’s the snake eyes in the bunch – Jennifer Tilly as Igiyook, the girl that tears father and son apart. Tilly isn’t just not an Inuit, she’s part Chinese, part European. So we’ve got a Cherokee/Hawaiian, a Chinese American and a Japanese legend all trying to look, act and sound Inuit. What’s wrong with just going and getting some Inuit people to be in your movie? What’s wrong with letting go of the ‘must have a star’ ethos and just making a good movie that will accurately reflect the people involved? No, instead we’ve got Squeaky Tilly, the Man of La Bamba and the Seventh Samurai, all looking like they’re freezing their hindquarters off.
Granted, Shadow of the Wolf does include some intriguing footage. Though the battles with wildlife are a little hokey, a communal whale hunt ranks amongst some of the most thrilling and unique footage that I’ve seen in months. Likewise, looks at how the Inuit go about their daily routine have you almost forget you’re watching a narrative and leave you feeling that you’re taking in a documentary.
But then Lou Diamond Phillips comes into view and yells, or grunts, or grunts and yells, beats on his woman, and generally behaves like a total ass. His dad is a proud, stubborn mule, but Lou Diamond couldn’t be any more stubborn if he was made of cement. He’s the kind of guy that won’t approach a wolf with his knife out, he’ll stand there with his knife I his boot while the wolf runs at him, only going for the weapon once he’s on his back. Why? Because he’s a show-off.
A side-story where Agaguk kills a white man (in self-defense of course) could have just as easily been left out altogether, especially as it brings in Donald Sutherland to play a Canadian police officer investigating the murder. Sutherland’s best work is long behind him and his turn here doesn’t do anything to make up for subjecting the audience to crap like Virus. Writer/director Jacques Dorfman is as over the hill as Sutherland is, seemingly not realizing when the dialogue is hokey or when the actors are uneven. That’s no surprise when you learn he recently directed the abominably bad Druids, starring Christopher Walken. In all honesty, Druids is to moviemaking what KFC is to chickens. It butchers the premise to a hideous extent.Shadow of the Wolf isn’t anywhere near as bad, but you can see the bad creeping into Dorfman’s work. Dubbed dialogue fails to match the lips of the actors, shots flip flop, especially during fight scenes, to cover the lack of effects, but mostly Dorfman fails to rope in his leads when they go way outside the realms of believability. Sure, a good director should seem anonymous when you’re watching a film, but that doesn’t mean they should phone it in.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=6468&reviewer=1
originally posted: 12/12/02 12:35:32