Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Empire of the Wolves


Directed by: Chris Nahon
Screenplay: Jean Christophe Grange, Chris Nahon, Christian Clavier & Frank Ollivier
Starring: Jean Reno, Arly Jover & Jocelyn Quivern

This French action thriller certainly packs a punch. Chris Nahon’s follow up to his equally excellent punch happy debut, Kiss of the Dragon, manages to mesh style, visual trickery, engaging characters and tough action into a concoction that wields horror, politics and thriller elements into the un-expecting viewers face. Anna (Arly Jover) is having trouble remembering who she is. Often she doesn’t recognize her own husband and doesn’t know why. Threatened with a possible life shattering biopsy to “cure” her of her amnesia she seeks out help before the operation. Meanwhile, somebody is carving up and dumping lowly Turkish girls in the Parisian sewers. Good natured cop, Nerteaux (Quivern) is assigned to the case and reluctantly agrees to the assistance of veteran and Turkish culture immersed cop, Schiffer (Reno). Uncovering a plot with ties to the police and a strange society called the Grey Wolves, their path soon crosses with Anna’s whose own husband and friends may be linked to her mind melt and all those dead bodies turning up.

Red herrings don’t begin to describe the maguffins Empire of the Wolves uses to keep you guessing who is who, what is what and what the hell is going on. With a plot that twists, turns, bamboozles and then completely morphs into something else, it’s a testament to Nahon and his cast’s skill that they manage to keep proceedings on track. France has been getting good at turning out slick, action orientated thrillers like this, such as The Crimson Rivers, Sweat and District 13, and Empire of the Wolves is no different. What sets it apart is the vibrant style and its sheer, unrelenting verve. No matter how complicated, inexplicable or absurd things get, Nahon just manages to keep a reign on things, grounding the story in enough reality and grit to make us believe in what is happening. What starts as a serial killer thriller then turns into an action film before twisting into a political thriller, and Nahon shows some balls throwing in everything but the kitchen sink in an effort to keep us guessing. Underworld crime boss with acid melted skin and throat: yep. Mind bending mind control and some scary ass assassins: oh yes. People alarmingly turning into wolf type creatures at a dinner party: you betcha. Empire of the Wolves is certainly unique.

At just shy of two hours, the plot manages to hold together pretty well before it all starts to crumble come the last half hour. However, it’s the only real quibble for what is a wild ride buoyed by an excellent cast. The principals perform well, their respective characters fleshed out enough for the action, with Jover standing head and shoulders above everyone else with her multilayered role. Reno is, as always, on fine form as the seedy, no, downright dirty cop, all Hawaiian shirts and bleached blonde hair. The action is solid if a little poorly handled at times but always entertaining with two standout sequences that keep in with radical vibe. One is an exhilarating set piece featuring shotgun action and some visual spectacle with a collapsing spiral stair case, while the other is a short, sharp and scary fight between one of the cops and an extremely deadly ninja looking assassin. This scene comes out of nowhere and is thrilling in its intensity.

If you are looking for an action film that’s off the beaten path, then Empire of the Wolves fits the bill. It may tie itself in knots come the end but sure is a fun, emotional rollercoaster ride getting there. With this and Kiss of the Dragon, Chris Nahon has developed a distinctive and invigorating action style that is all his own. Just watch out for those wolf people. Yikes.

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