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The tagline for Israeli thriller Big Bad Wolves is "Some Men Are Created Evil." That's an interesting proposition, and this seemingly simple phrase is quite potent when applied to the film. A razor-sharp revenge thriller that Quentin Tarantino labeled his favorite of 2013, Big Bad Wolves explores the evil in the heart of man. Some men are born evil, others are molded to be evil by tragedy or out of necessity. A headstrong cop, the father of a murdered girl, and the schoolteacher accused of killing her are violently thrown together in this stylish, often humorous thriller from directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. The film's heritage plays a key role in its unraveling narrative, which teases its audience with morally ambiguous characters who commit shocking acts of savagery. Big Bad Wolves is complex and entertaining; the rare thriller that succeeds by letting the audience make up its own mind about who should be redeemed.
A group of children play hide and seek in the film's time-skewed opening. One girl is snatched from a wardrobe, leaving behind only her shoes. A local grade-school teacher, Dror (Rotem Keinan), is suspected of kidnapping, raping and killing the girl but is not formally charged. Local detective Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) leads an unsanctioned interrogation squad to torture a confession out of Dror, but the operation is fruitless and Micki is demoted to traffic duty. The missing girl's body is found, headless and exhibiting signs of a sexual assault, and the girl's father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), finds little solace in the police's assertions that they're working overtime to find the killer. Both Micki and Gidi independently decide to take matters into their own hands, as Dror asserts his innocence and attempts to flee from the encroaching hands of society.
Directors Keshales and Papushado, who shot Israel's first slasher film, Rabies, instill in Big Bad Wolves a darkly humorous undercurrent and likely earned Tarantino's seal of approval with their numerous nods to Reservoir Dogs. Torture is a game sanctioned by a loyalty to one's child, and the finger-snapping, skin-scorching horror begs the question of who, really, is the villain here? Like the recent Prisoners, Big Bad Wolves presents a father driven to extremes by the loss of a child. Micki moves from vigilante to prisoner to unwitting accomplice as Gidi binds and tortures Dror in his presence. Is Dror innocent or guilty? Perhaps it is Gidi and Micki who are now created evil.
The film's narrative is relatively straightforward, but its stylish delivery and often unexpected humor buoy the overall impact. The film suggests that Israeli conscription may be responsible for a generation of men who know how to kill. There are several hints that Keshales and Papushado have something to say about Israel-Palestine relations, too, and the only Palestinian character shows up on a horse as a guardian angel of sorts. Read into that what you will. As the title suggests, Big Bad Wolves is a fairy tale of sorts, about innocence lost, evil men meeting their maker, and getting lost in the woods of virtue. The final shots raise some questions that may not be worth answering, but Big Bad Wolves is a violently unique film about the weakness of men.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image from Magnolia is excellent. The Arri Alexa-shot digital source is pristine, and this high-definition transfer replicates the filmmakers' intended look. The grainless image is crisp and extremely sharp, exhibiting loads of detail in both close-ups and wide shots. The directors used wide-angle lenses for many shots, which gives the movie a unique, slightly skewed appearance. Colors are nicely saturated and black levels are good considering the digital source. I noticed minor aliasing in a couple of shots but nothing else detracts from this solid transfer.
The Hebrew 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also strong, and provides a totally immersive experience for the home theater. Dialogue is always intelligible, whether it is delivered from the center channel or the surrounds. The film's score, from Israeli composer Haim Frank Ilfman, is key to setting the tone, and is given ample support from the surrounds and subwoofer. There are not a ton of action effects, but ambient effects use the surrounds to creep up behind viewers. Sometimes it's what you don't hear that sends chills down your spine. An English dub 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also available, as are English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
The Making of Big Bad Wolves (16:17/HD) is a decent production featurette with behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interviews. You also get AXS TV: A Look at Big Bad Wolves (2:57/HD), which is basically an extended trailer. There's also the film's real Theatrical Trailer (1:43/HD) and some bonus previews.
I don't agree with Quentin Tarantino that Big Bad Wolves is the best film of 2013, but it's certainly worth watching. This Israeli import is a shocking blend of violence and dark humor that questions the morality of men placed in terrible situations. Stylish and intense, Bad Bad Wolves injects new life into the tired revenge thriller. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.