Bart Freundlich’s new film WOLVES
From the famous courts of West 4th Street, to the tenements overlooking the bridges of the lower east side, Wolves paints an original, diverse, and emotional portrait of a boy becoming a man in New York City. 18-year-old, Anthony Keller is a high school basketball star. Now in his senior year he is being recruited by Cornell University, a dream come true. Called “Saint” by everyone at his school (St. Anthony’s), he does his best to live up to his name. He is captain of his team, a good student, has a long time girlfriend and some good friends. But the ease with which he moves through his life is a facade. At home, Anthony struggles with his troubled Father, Lee Keller, (Michael Shannon) and his gambling addiction. Anthony’s Mother, Jenny, (Carla Gugino) has made it her mission to keep the family afloat but has done so only with great emotional and financial sacrifice.
As Anthony approaches the end of his senior year and the city finals, he is faced with adversity from all sides, and the stakes are high. He must find his own definition of what it means to be a man, both on and off the court, and in doing so he is confronted with the decision of a lifetime.
There is definitely more than meets the eye to this coming of age, high school basketball story. Newcomer Taylor John Smith plays “Saint”, a kid trying desperately to make everyone around him happy. He is emotionally stretched thin and like many high school students who want/need to achieve their lofty dreams, finally meets his breaking point. WOLVES is filled to the brim with fantastic performances. With a heavy hitting cast alongside Smith, there are more layers to this film, and it all comes down to perspective.
Smith’s lead performance is natural, endearing, and powerful. The abusive aspect of the film coming directly from Michael Shannon (as his father), is tough stuff for any actor. But for Smith to easily go toe to toe with a vet like Shannon, all I can say is, “Bravo.” Speaking of Shannon, he plays a real self-loathing scumbag. Unhappy and resentful professor with a gambling addiction, he not only doles out physical abuse to his son but a heavy handed dose of emotional as well. Shannon gives a performance closer to his early seasons on Boardwalk Empire, short fuse and potentially underlying sociopathic tendencies. Carla Gugino is better than ever as the mother trapped in a marriage of frustration and protection of her son and her own sanity. Grittier than her performance in Match but equally as wonderful. For me, the most noteworthy role is one of the smallest. As a momentary surrogate father figure, former pro-baller and wise truth speaking guru, John Douglas Smith is a master. Some of the most impassioned moments in the script come from the mouth of this character Socrates (aptly named). I could have watched this man wax philosophic for the entire film. He was the grounding force the script so desperately needed, as not to lead it into after-school special territory.
On the whole, you will route for WOLVES and the storyline. You can catch the film in theaters and On Demand, tomorrow March 3rd. Check out the trailer below.
In Theaters & On Demand on March 3rd
RT: 110 Minutes