A struggling reindeer herder and his nephew must resort to subterfuge after killing a rare, protected lycanthrope in vet helmer Daniel Alfredson’s rugged and riveting outdoors drama “Wolf.” Dramatic heft and an engrossing perf by eccentric character actor Peter Stormare as the taciturn lead will hold the film in good stead in Scandi territories, with fest action assured and possible modest specialty biz prior to solid DVD presence. Pic was well received at home in April, with Norwegian rights being negotiated and Finland skedded to release it Oct. 10.
Cut from the same sturdy cloth as Carroll Ballard’s “Never Cry Wolf,” pic, written by revered 72-year-old novelist Kerstin Ekman, revolves around the gradual encroachment of man and law on nature’s delicate balance. Decimated by a bounty that lasted until 1965, the wolf population in the spectacular northern wilderness of the Swedish-Norwegian border has dwindled to about 150. As roughly half of the 50 that die every year are killed, poaching is now a crime punishable by up to four years in prison.
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Yet wolves remain a worry for Klements Klementsen (Stormare), one of only about 200 nomadic Sami descendants still in the region. From his isolated cabin, he struggles to make a living herding reindeer as his father did, his only aid coming from his 18-year-old nephew, Nejla (Robin Lundberg), whose hotelier parents (Maria Delleskog, Rolf Degerlund) disagree with the arrangement.
In a breathlessly tense first-act sequence, Nejla kills a marauding wolf with a single ax blow to the head. When Klements insists on taking the fall, his decision puts a strain on an extended family already divided by the ways of the past and the laws of the present.
Known primarily for his twitchy work Stateside with the Coen brothers (“Fargo”) and on television, Swedish native Stormare here employs an occasionally skittish stoicism strongly reminiscent of vintage Clint Eastwood. It’s a commanding perf, and it’s matched in intensity and purpose by newcomer Lundberg as that rare teenager more interested in preserving tradition than in playing vidgames.
Helmer Alfredson, whose credits include the propulsive 1994 Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo adaptation “The Man on the Balcony,” brings the same focus and energy to the twin cat-and-mouse games of man vs. wolf and man vs. man here.
Intuitive widescreen lensing by noted d.p. Jorgen Persson, who admits (in the press notes) to being more or less retired after shooting Swedish classics from “My Life as a Dog” to “Faithless,” leads the solid tech charge.