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Big Bad Wolves (2014)
Movie Reviews

Big Bad Wolves (2014)

Unlike revenge thrillers like The Tortured, this film depicts vengeance as a way to speak out against it.

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In every task, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. This is a lesson the men of Big Bad Wolves, an Israeli revenge thriller, learn the hard way. Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), a cop who doesn’t believe in due process or that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty, and Gidi (Tzahi Grad), who believes he has nothing left to lose, both have a beef with religious studies teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan), who’s soft spoken, unassuming, and the prime suspect in the murders of several young girls. Miki was fired after a video of him savagely interrogating Dror in an abandoned building went viral on the internet. Gidi is the father of the latest victim, whose life might have been spared had Miki not operated outside the boundaries of the law. As a result, Gidi is now a man without a conscience, fueled only by his need for vengeance.

In June of 2012, I was less than kind to another revenge thriller, The Tortured, the story of grieving parents hellbent on making their son’s killer suffer after a plea bargain earned him a sentence lesser than life in prison. Unlike that immoral pile of garbage, in which the aim was to sensationalize and glorify the main characters’ unspeakable actions, Big Bad Wolves depicts vengeance as a way to speak out against it. This isn’t a matter of whether or not Dror actually committed the crimes he’s accused of; it’s a matter of Miki and Gidi doing all the wrong things in their search for the truth. By taking the law into their own hands, a decision based on a shared belief in something that has yet to be proven, they’re actually doing more to keep the truth hidden. As the saying goes, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

To be sure, whoever is responsible for the murders needs to be put away for a very, very long time. I’ll spare you the graphic details, although I will say that the victims were all drugged, raped, and tortured before being killed, and that they each met their deaths in a particularly gruesome way. To carry out his revenge, Gidi buys a cabin in the middle of rural Arab land, which has the advantages of being a good hour away from the city and having a large, virtually soundproof basement. Miki initially proves to be a hinderance, which is why he’s kidnapped along with Dror, and even after Gidi is able to persuade Miki into becoming his accomplice, it quickly becomes apparent that there are lengths to which even Miki cannot go. Gidi straps and gags Dror to a recliner chair, giving him two options: He can either confess to the murders and get a quick death with a bullet to the brain, or he can continue to deny his guilt and die slowly, suffering the same way he made his victims suffer.

One of the film’s more surprising aspects is its undercurrent of dark humor. There’s a scene, for example, when Miki flips a coin to decide whether he or Gidi should be the first to break one of Dror’s fingers. There’s also an amusing moment when Gidi is interrupted by a cell phone call from his mother, who we quickly gather, even with only her voice, is the fretful and overbearing type. Much earlier in the film, as Miki is being chastised by his superior for his unprofessional behavior, we see that the superior’s son is in the office as part of his school’s Take Your Son to Work Day. Not only is the son allowed to listen to the conversation, he’s free to speak rudely to Miki. Things get interesting when Gidi’s father (Doval’e Glickman) pays an unexpected visit at the insistence of his mother. Because Gidi lied about being too sick to have company over, she sent his father over with a bowl of soup.

Not so surprising is the level of violence the film depicts. Gidi, without a trace of facial expression yet with indisputable satisfaction, uses a hammer, a pair of pliers, and a nail on Dror, although I would prefer to not describe the ways in which they’re used. The same goes for a blowtorch, which, without getting into specifics, wasn’t Gidi’s idea. None of it is pleasant to watch, but I recognize that, within the context of the story, it’s appropriate. So, with all due respect to those that attacked me for “not getting” films like Kick-Ass, The Raid: Redemption, and Jack Reacher, let it not be said I’m incapable of seeing the narrative purpose of violence. Having said that, I simply cannot approve of a scene in which Miki uses his taser on Dror’s dog. There are some things that cross the line, and animal cruelty, even if its depicted, is one of them.

One of the selling points of Big Bad Wolves is that, upon seeing a screening of it at the Busan International Film Festival in 2013, Quentin Tarantino declared it the best film of the year. I respect Tarantino as a filmmaker, but with all due respect to him, I’m not convinced his rave review is called for to sell this movie. Given his personal taste in the movies he watches, which is sometimes questionable, he might be giving audiences the wrong impression of what the film is really about. Yes, the film is violent and brutal, and yes, it maintains a twisted sense of humor, but it’s not a mindless exploitation film. It actually has something to say about what it depicts. And what it says actually does go against another popular expression: If you want something done right, do it yourself.

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi