Release Date: June 17, 1994
Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance
Director: Mike Nichols
Writers: Jim Harrison, Wesley Strick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Christopher Plummer
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
It’s sad that we haven’t seen Jack Nicholson on the big screen in almost a decade. Although he is in his eighties and living out the remaining days of his life, it would be nice to see him in one final performance. After all, he is one of the most iconic actors in history. He has left his mark in film with his numerous memorable performances. From Jack Torrance to The Joker, Jake Gittes to Nathan Jessup, you can’t think about those characters without thinking about the actor that brought them to life. I can’t think of a bad performance from Jack. He gives everything he has in a role. One of his most underrated, or perhaps the most underrated performance of Nicholson’s career was in the 1994 Horror/Romance film ‘Wolf’.
Nicholson portrays Will Randall, who is an editor-in-chief of a publishing house who is about to be demoted due to the purchase of the publishing house by billionaire Raymond Alden (played by Christopher Plummer). On top of that bad news, Will finds out his successor is his protégé Stewart Swinton (Played by James Spader) who is not only taking his job but has taken his wife in an extramarital affair. One night driving home in the snow, Will is attacked by a wolf which leaves him with a bite on his arms. Shortly after his attack, Will discovers that he has heightened senses of sight, smell and hearing. After meeting Alden’s outcast daughter Laura (played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Will confides to her about what he is experiencing and they strike up a relationship. As the story continues, Will’s transformation gets deeper and deeper. He must find a way to repress changing into a wolf during the full moon.
Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mike Nichols, ‘Wolf’ is not your traditional werewolf movie. Don’t expect a lot of action or gory kill scenes. The concept of the wolf is a metaphor for corporate takeovers and executive rivalries, hence the old saying, “Being thrown to the wolves”. He fights to keep his job and engages in a rivalry with his protégé Ala teacher vs. student with the student looking to defeat the one that taught him how to succeed. The wolf is also a metaphor for sexual repression as you will see in certain moments of the film not only with Will and his wife, but Will and his quick attraction to Laura. As I watched the film, it felt like I was watching an adult version of “Beauty and the Beast”.
Jack Nicholson continues to show why he is one of the greatest actors in history. Yes, he has that repetitive slick and cunning tone when he speaks, but this was one of the more physical performances I haven’t seen him do since the likes of “The Shining” or “Batman”. He takes the concept of Method acting to a new level and really gets into the wolf character with his constant sniffing; his constant shifting of the eyes as he is quickly senses his surroundings and his stamina and agility throughout the movie. There’s even a clever funny scene of Nicholson “marking his territory” like any animal would. I have to imagine he was physically and emotionally drained after making this movie, but if he got through “Batman”, he found a way to get through this! Huge props to the makeup and effects department for Nicholson’s transformation. The effects reminded me of “An American Werewolf in London” or even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. Nicholson was definitely Wolverine before Hugh Jackman took on that role!
The supporting cast is small as it focuses on the relationships between Will, Stewart, Laura and Aldren. Pfeiffer portrays Laura Alden as an isolationist and someone who detests her father and drives up an attraction to Will to spite him. As she gets to know him, she feels concerned and caring for what is happening to him and she even goes to bat for him when he is confronted with a tragic situation. You can feel her emotion through every gasp and every tremble. Spader plays his character as a smooth and calculating weasel who goes behind Will’s back to not only take his job but take his wife. He thinks he is in control of the situation, but the worm turns for him when Will keeps up the fight for his job which sets up the many confrontations they will have throughout the film. And what can you say about Christopher Plummer? Only that he is Christopher Plummer and he is one of the most legendary actors of our time. He doesn’t skip a beat portraying billionaire Raymond Alden. When he purchases the publishing house, he thinks he’s beaten Will and be able to run the publishing house the way he wants, but what he doesn’t realize is that he is engaging in a Chess match with Will to see who will submit first. It’s a duel of egos between these two characters.
The only negative I could think of in the film is the pacing. It turns into a straight up horror film in the third act and feels rushed. Some of the scenes in the third act seem unnecessary, but they were put there to build up the suspense and drama. It gives you an insight on what the climax of the film is going to be.
It’s been twenty-four years since ‘Wolf’ came out in theaters. It is still original and innovative. It doesn’t have to borrow too much from the ‘werewolf’ films of the past to make a statement on corporate diplomacy and the seduction that romances can bring. It’s a shame we didn’t get a sequel to this film. Watch below. This would’ve been a great concept. Don’t you think?
TRIVIA (Sourced from IMDB)
- Jack Nicholson had been trying to get this film made with his friend, writer Jim Harrison, for twelve years.
- The movie’s release was delayed for six to eight months to re-shoot the entire third act
- Mia Farrow was slated to play Charlotte Randall. Mike Nichols had to fight to let Farrow have the part, due to the film company’s hesitancy over her being too controversial at the time (the then current Mia Farrow and Woody Allen trial). She had to take a salary cut but in the long run she had to bow out anyway, due to schedule conflicts.
- Jack Nicholson had final say about who the choice of the director would be, and in fact one of his choices was Mike Nichols.
- Stanley Kubrick was considered to direct, but he wasn’t interested.
- Sharon Stone turned down the female lead.
- When Michelle Pfeiffer expressed interest in playing the part of Laura, Mike Nichols and the film’s screenwriters wanted to make the part stronger and more important to the story, as it was basically a “woman in danger” trope in the original script. Some of the ideas considered were making her into an animal rights activist or a doctor, both of which would have given her a connection to Jack Nicholson’s character and expanded on her conflict with her rich father. Ultimately, Pfeiffer accepted the role without it being hugely upgraded because she wanted to work with Nicholson and Nichols.