The Wolf’s Call (2019)

Two-thirds of the way through the film I was tempted to call this a great movie, but sadly things kind of didn’t gel for me in the third act. Even so, this is still a remarkable movie for submarine movie buffs. There’s something vaguely mystical about gliding through the water in darkness listening for the sound of other predators in a dangerous game of hide and seek that I’ve always found fascinating, and ‘The Wolf’s Call’, the title a reference to that idea, is an excellent contribution to the genre.

The first act, where they setup the situation that drives the movie, is nothing short of brilliant. The screenwriters have devised a scenario that is extremely, verging on too, topical. Without wanting to give away anything important, I would just say that it is based upon a scenario that perfectly fits the Zeitgeist of Europe at the moment.

The scenario involves an element of US politics. From my perspective as an American I would say this scenario is extremely unlikely, even given the conditions that give birth to it. Europe and the US may not always get along as well as everyone would hope, but we are kin. The ties that bind us are forged in blood and stronger than any individual; for better or worse that will never change. But having said that, I can certainly see where the concern comes from.

I would also say that it’s interesting to see how perspectives change. Post Iraq war, the depiction of Americans in European media painted us as at best ambiguous, and often arrogant, imperialist, or even sinister in our application of military power around the world. The views in the movie bring worry from the opposite direction, and seem to tacitly acknowledge that sometimes it’s not so bad to be friends with the 800 lb gorilla in the room, even if you’re not always happy about his temper and penchant for smashing things.

In any case, the scenario involves the French Navy and submarine combat. Not being a submariner I can’t say that the technical details of life on a submarine are accurate, but if they aren’t it is some brilliant bull because they certainly feel real. The main character is Chanteraide, played by François Civil, who is the sound guy on the sub.

This is a big deal on a submarine; modern subs all have computers to analyze the sounds in the water looking for acoustic signatures that tell them who else is out there in the depths, but as you might imagine this is a difficult task as every sub also has technology to obfuscate those sounds and keep themselves hidden. You might compare the task to, say, listening to the sound of someone type their password on a keyboard and then trying to reverse the sounds to keystrokes. It can be done, but the process is difficult and filled with uncertainty.

The middle third of the story involves Chanteraide investigating an acoustic mystery as high-stake events unfold. Acoustic signature investigation may not sound exactly thrill a minute, but between the brewing crisis and some good story pacing by the director, it remains fresh and interesting, and I enjoyed how honest to the intellectual process of solving the mystery it was.

The final act is where I was a little disappointed. The setup is too good to give away, but let’s just say a misunderstanding develops and Chanteraide is called on to help resolve it. I was expecting Chanteraide to come up with something clever, a means of delivering a message using his unique skill set and training, which would have capped the movie perfectly, but the movie instead reverts to more standard thriller fare at this point.

There were a couple of problems here, in my opinion. First, the movie abandons all sense of time, moving characters between locations in minutes that, even optimistically, would have taken hours, so that they can be in the important places as events unfold. For a movie that has been so careful to get the details right, this stands out in glaring contrast.

Second,the characters and even some of the submarine functions act in a way inconsistent with previously established story. It’s hard to believe that certain characters would have behaved the way they did, given what was happening.

And third, the director goes for several big, overly dramatic scenes between characters that feels unearned. If you are going to have a big ‘connection across space and time’ moment between characters, you better have established that connection earlier really well, or else it will come across as almost satirical instead of poignant.

But third act aside, the movie is still really solid and entertaining. It uses some very clever story crafting to develop a scenario that feels very fit to our times and sets the stakes in a believable way that keeps you engaged. The dialogue is in French, of course, so I used the English dubbing, which was automatic on Netflix and was pretty solid. If you have Netflix and enjoy submarine movies, I would certainly recommend giving it a watch.

 

Review by ivko

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