This must have been an easy sell to cinemagoers back in 1994. An incredible cast, led by Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. One of the most eye-catching posters you’ll ever see, and an absolute belter of a tagline: the animal is out. Well someone must have put it back in, because this is one tame pup of a film. Wolf sees legendary director Mike Nichols team once again with his favourite leading man for his first and only foray into horror (with a small h). Nicholson plays Will Randall, a New York publisher, whose job and marriage are both hanging by a thread. When he is bitten by a wolf, his life soon starts to change, and in more ways than one.
There was something remarkably obvious about casting one of Hollywood’s most raw and animalistic performers as a werewolf. Why had no one thought to do this before? The devilish eyebrows, the shock of hair, and that famous wolfish grin. He has always – especially in the latter half of his career – looked as though he was barely supressing some primal urge. In theory, this is an incredible piece of casting. The reality however is not so incredible. The sight of the great Jack Nicholson sniffing the air like a dog, and galloping around New York is, I’m sad to say, kind of goofy looking.
As well as looking silly, the whole thing feels very anachronistic. It was made in the mid-90s but looks and feels like a film from a much earlier era. We’re dealing with a film which on the surface is about a man slowly transforming into a wolf. Where are the prosthetics? Where are the special effects? The transformation relies entirely on Nicholson’s aforementioned physicality, his ability to grunt and gurn, and a shit set of fangs. On the one hand it looks stupid. On the other it looks as though Mike Nichols thought he was above all that horror claptrap, and that he was making something subtle, original, and important. Ron Howard voice-over: he wasn’t.
Where the film does succeed however, is in its depiction of the cut-throat world of New York publishing. Nichols seems far more at home with this, than he is with the horror. James Spader is excellent, as he always is, when tasked with playing a smarmy bastard. Whether creeping up to billionaire media magnate Raymond Alden (Christopher Plummer) or stabbing his mentor in the back, he is on wonderful, scene-stealing form. But he soon meets his match when Nicholson’s new found lupine characteristics turn him into a ruthless business beast. The “territory” scene is a particular highlight.
Lost in all of this is Michelle Pfeiffer as Laura Alden, the daughter of Plummer’s character. She is woefully underused and under-written. Her character undergoes a personality change that is so sudden, it is incidentally more impactful that Jack turning into a wolf. She is also lumbered with the worst dialogue that the script has to offer. Nicholson, Plummer, and Spader got off lightly in comparison.
Of course if you’re a fan of any of the talent on show, then nothing I say is going to stop you rushing out and buying this release, and nor should it, because this is a terrific package. For its first ever UK blu-ray release, Indicator have put together a cracking selection of features, including The Beast Inside: Creating ‘Wolf’, a new hour-long documentary on the making of the film. Never before seen archival interviews with actors Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, and Kate Nelligan, and director Mike Nichols, producer Douglas Wick, and writer Jim Harrison. The disc also comes with b-roll footage, the original theatrical trailer, and an image gallery of on-set and promotional photography. Included in the pack is a limited edition booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, an overview of critical responses, and historic articles on the film. The extras are worth the purchase alone.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Christopher Plummer Director: Mike Nichols Writer: Jim Harrison & Wesley Strick Released By: Indicator Certificate: 15 Duration: 125 mins Release Date: 20th November 2017