Would-be epic SHADOW OF THE WOLF seems to have the necessary elements: a wonderful setting, an international cast and a scope of apparently mythic proportions. Unfortunately, Jacques Dorfinann's film lacks the one ingredient no commercial film can do without--a story which holds one's
interest. Although visually a treat, the finished result falls sadly short of its possibilities.
It's 1935, and somewhere in the Arctic Circle lives a group of Eskimos called the Elodins. Times are bad; furs have been hard to come by in this harsh winter, and the white man has begun to infringe upon the Eskimo's land. French-Canadian trapper and trader Brown (Pierre-Bernard Donnadieu), who
has been placating the Eskimos with liquor, is frustrated by the low number of pelts they've been bringing. The tribe's leader, Ramook (Toshiro Mifune), promises things will change. Into the village rides Agaguk (Lou Diamond Phillips), Ramook's son, a rebel who despises the white man. Agaguk has
killed a great white bear, and has with him a fine hide. When Ramook promises the fur to Brown, Agaguk and his father argue, and Agaguk decides to leave the village for good. He wants the beautiful Iriook (Jennifer Tilly) to accompany him, even though Ramook has tried to take her for his own.
Agaguk confronts Brown; they fight and Brown dies. Agaguk and Iriook steal off into the night, cursed by Ramook to be hunted by a mythical white wolf. Iriook and Agaguk set up housekeeping, though the old-fashioned Agaguk has trouble adjusting to her independent ways. Meanwhile policeman
Henderson (Donald Sutherland) begins investigating Brown's murder. Agaguk and the pregnant Iriook head further north, while their tribe do away with Henderson, allowing them to return to the south. Their son is born, and Agaguk must hunt the white wolf that seems to be haunting their village. He
kills the animal and is wounded; Iriook heals her scarred man over a lengthy period.
Other policemen arrive to investigate Henderson's fate; they threaten to take away the Eskimos' rifles unless they come clean. Ramook reluctantly tells them that his son killed Brown, but swears they have never seen Henderson. A healed Agaguk decides to go home and speak to his father. Ramook,
proud that his son has become a noble man, falsely confesses to Brown's murder and hands over leadership of his tribe to Agaguk. The police put Ramook in a plane for the long trip back to the United States. "I dreamt I would fly as a big bird," says Ramook, as they take off. Once aloft, Ramook
jumps from the plane and magically turns into an eagle as his people look proudly on. Agaguk can now rule wisely.
Though crammed with incident and exotic customs, SHADOW OF THE WOLF is not a very interesting film. The story, based on Yves Theriault's novel "Agaguk" contains many potentially interesting elements: Eskimos dealing with the intrusion of the white man, a tense and combative father/son
relationship, murder--all of these could add up to powerhouse entertainment, but they don't. The viewer never cares enough about these people, or buys into the mythic aspects of the story.
The awesome beauty of the vast, white tundra distracts the viewer for a while, but eventually the film's weaknesses surface. Never do we sense the power of the white wolf over Agaguk. The wolf should preoccupy his mind at all times, but aside from a brief nightmare he is barely aware of what
must be an omnipotent presence. Further, Agaguk's hatred of white man is never fully fleshed out, and it's conveniently overcome in the third act when, after killing the wolf, he says, "I no longer have the anger for the white man." While the acting is fine, there's no chemistry between Mifune and
Phillips as father and son, and the casting is curious: for a film about the beauty and integrity of Eskimo culture, it seems strange that the male leads are Japanese and Latino, while the woman is white.
The cinematography is adequate, but not as breathtaking as one might expect, given the locations. Dorfmann does best when he examines the often mundane rituals of living on the ice, fishing, hunting and cooking. Sutherland's demise is well staged and one of the few moments when the film is
genuinely engrossing. But many of the film's big scenes are dismally executed; the giant whale which nearly kills some of the villagers looks more like a submarine than a mammal. Despite its talented cast and cinematic virtues, SHADOW OF THE WOLF, is lacking in many respects; while initially
interesting, it ultimately demands that the audience to fill in too many blanks. (Violence, nudity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Would-be epic SHADOW OF THE WOLF seems to have the necessary elements: a wonderful setting, an international cast and a scope of apparently mythic proportions. Unfortunately, Jacques Dorfinann's film lacks the one ingredient no commercial film can do witho… (more)