THE WOLF HOUR – movie review

Brainstorm Media
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alistair Banks Griffin
Screenwriter: Alistair Banks Griffin
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jennifer Ehle, Emory Cohen, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Brennan Brown, Jeremy Bobb
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/28/19
Opens: December 6, 2019

The Wolf Hour Movie Poster

This claustrophobic film that focuses almost exclusively on an agoraphobic might be considered by some viewers to be a vanity project for Naomi Watts but there are more dimensions to this theatrical piece. Not only is Watts, considered by many to be one of the great actresses of her generation, in her métier, but writer-director Alistair Banks Griffin, following up his freshman feature “Two Gates of Sleep” about a mother’s final request, uses Watts’ impressive acting skills to serve as a metaphor for one of New York City’s darkest years. If you are a New Yorker older than fifty, you will recall how Rudolph Giuliani became one of our most popular mayors by (as he put it himself) cleaning up the mess from the seventies. The women of the city had focused their fears on David Richard Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam, a smiling sociopath who killed brunette women, leaving notes to provoke the police, promising to continue his favorite hobby.

Somehow Naomi Watts in the role of June Leigh is holed up in an apartment that seems more as though a section of a Bangladesh slum had relocated in South Bronx. She may have been a victim of an unmentioned tragedy, a woman whom you would expect to live in New York’s Silk Stocking District given her placement on best seller lists with her first novel, a guest on a TV interview show answering questions from Hans (Brennan Brown), and refusing to take guff from a William Buckley Jr. type interested in ratings for his intellectual show.

June has kept her publisher waiting for four years for a second novel, since the author’s fears have kept her blocked. But leave it to a tragedy affecting one of her few contacts to pull her out of her funk and set her up with a breakout second book. Apparently her sister Margot (Jennifer Ehle), who forced her way into June’s flat, cleaned up the mess of books, and is rewarded by being told to get out, is no solution for June. An unlikely hero for her is not police officer Jeremy Blake, who offers to help and keep a special watch in return for sexual favors. Nor can Billy (Emory Cohen), an understanding third-rate gigolo, do more than relieve her sexual tensions. Unlikely as you might think, Freddie (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a delivery guy from the local bodega who uses the apartment to wash up and cool off from a frightening hot summer, will serve as a catalyst for her return to society.

The movie would be better on the stage of an off-off-Broadway house given the sparseness of the production design and works OK on the screen thanks to Watts, since she easily project her emotions in many close-up from Kahlid Mohtased’s camera. Strangely the 38 caliber revolver given to her by Margot stays in the drawer and is not retrieved in Act 3, so while the movie is Chekhovian, the gun does not inevitably reappear.

One item is confusing, making the viewer think that Freddie, the delivery guy, is a figment of her imagination. When she calls the bodega he allegedly works for, she’s told that the boss never heard of him. I can’t think of any actress other than Watts who could produce the feeling of terror as she does.

99 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B