Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Wolves Movie Poster Image
Strong acting, clichéd storytelling in coming-of-age drama.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 109 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Discourages teamwork and frowns on loyalty to family; celebrates revenge and retribution on an (admittedly disgraceful) family member.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character starts out as a good person but is continually driven down a bad path, with no negative consequences and only great rewards waiting for him. Meanwhile, his father is absolutely despicable from start to finish, with no redeeming qualities.


Intense fighting, punching sequences. Also fighting, shoving on basketball court, with a bloody face. Family violence: A father smacks a son in the face and injures him on the court. Main character with injured knee, on crutches, in pain. Injured hand, with blood.


Teens kiss in bed; foreplay is suggested. Suggestions that sex has happened/is about to happen. Adults kiss.


Language includes "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," the "N" word, "bitch," "p---y," "ass," "damn," "shut up," and "Jesus" (as an exclamation). Racial slur "chink" is used.


References to Instagram and Twitter. Nike shoes. Adidas mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters drinking/drunk.

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.

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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 ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Wolves. Which parts of it were shocking? What did the filmmakers choose to show and choose not to show? How does that affect its impact?

  • 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 is drinking shown in the movie? Does it look appealing or cool? Does it have consequences? Why does that matter?

  • How does Wolves compare to other basketball movies you've seen? Other coming-of-age movies?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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