A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wolves is a coming-of-age drama about a teen basketball star and his gambling-addict father. There's fighting and punching on the basketball court, with some blood, as well as shocking violence committed by a father against his son (the father smacks the son in the face and then seriously injures him while playing ball). Teens kiss, and a sexual relationship between them is suggested, especially when the girl is said to be pregnant. Adults are also shown kissing. Language is strong, with multiple uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," and many other words; the "N" word and other racial slurs are heard, too. An adult is shown drinking and drunk.
What's the story?
In WOLVES, Anthony Keller (Taylor John Smith) is a high school basketball star who's looking forward to attending college at Cornell. But several problems arise. Anthony's kindness and teamwork on the court are frowned on by the college coach, his girlfriend might be pregnant, and his father, Lee (Michael Shannon), is far from a worthy role model. An arrogant college literature professor as well as a compulsive gambler, Lee has amassed an enormous debt, and dangerous people are after him. Then, Lee aggressively and cruelly injures Anthony during a game of one-on-one. Anthony sits out the next big game, but when he realizes that his father might have taken advantage of his injury, he makes a drastic decision.
Is it any good?
While the performances are strong in this coming-of-age drama, it suffers from being too familiar and predictable, with wobbly, hand-held camerawork continually breaking the storytelling's spell. Writer/director Bart Freundlich (Catch That Kid) chose his cast well: Shannon is one of the greatest actors working today, and he isn't afraid to explore his character's deepest inadequacies. It looks like Smith can actually play ball, and, as Anthony's mother, Carla Gugino is an active character rather than just being there to support the male characters. Plus, Chris Bauer is striking as Anthony's Uncle Charlie, a man with a past of his own.
But Wolves' awkward, greenish-gray cinematography makes the character moments feel staged, rather than natural, and the random cutting makes the basketball games feel choppy rather than dramatic. Moreover, bits of plot feel awkwardly smashed into place, giving the characters less time to breathe and be fleshed out. But perhaps most distracting is the movie's similarity -- and, alas, inferiority -- to Karel Reisz and James Toback's excellent 1974 film The Gambler, as well as the 2014 Mark Wahlberg remake.
Talk to your kids about ...
What does the movie have to say about teens having sex? What are the upsides and downsides to this? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
How does Wolves compare to other basketball movies you've seen? Other coming-of-age movies?
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