I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 13th-24th.
Directed by Bart Freundlich
In high school, sports can be everything. There are those who simply embrace the spirit of the school teams and go to games and matches to cheer their peers on. There are those whose entire social circles are occupied and defined by a love of playing sports, both casually and on an organized team. And then there are those whose future depends on their sports career in high school, as it will catapult them to a great college with a substantial scholarship and set them up for a promising and comfortable life. “Wolves” tells the story of one of the star players of the team of the same name and the struggles he encounters as he does his best to make his mark and set himself up for post-high school life.
Anthony (Taylor John Smith) is the popular captain of his basketball team. He has good friends, a great girlfriend, and is already a known quantity to the coach from Cornell who encourages him to keep on going and he’ll be completely set to join their ranks. His mother Jenny (Carla Gugino) works hard at a department store to support the family, while his father Lee (Michael Shannon) teaches at a small college and vows to finish writing his book. Lee also devotes a large portion of his time to betting uncontrollably on sports games, racking up sizable debts to multiple bookies and threatening the livelihood of his family and any options for Anthony in the future if he doesn’t secure that scholarship.
There are many father-son dynamics that have been portrayed on film, and this movie crafts a truly intense and compelling relationship. The vigor of Lee’s addiction is matched by his enthusiasm for alcohol and his readiness to criticize his son for not accomplishing his full potential before complimenting him, pointing out the one or two things he could have done better rather than praising a near-perfect game. Anthony looks to his father for approval, and his lack of support, particularly his absence at all games due to teaching or gambling, truly wounds him. While Jenny is there for him in all those moments, she is also helpless to control the impulses and destructive behavior of her husband.
Shannon is everywhere at the moment, starring in three films premiering at Tribeca, with a few more in the pipeline. Here, he delivers a tremendous performance of a man so consumed by addiction and prone to fits of anger that he is unable to be defined by anything else. Gugino complements him well, and Smith is a particularly strong find, baring his emotions and believably portraying a wounded teenager driven by his love of sports and a desire to succeed. This film may be darker than most high school-set movies, but it has plenty of light, entertainment, and meaning along the way.