THE WOLF'S CALL

★★★

SUSPENSE, SILLINESS AND SONAR SWEEPS

ALLIANCE FRANÇAISE FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
17th March 2020

The thought of being at sea is, for some people, unbearable as there is little to no control over your surroundings. Imagine then being in a submarine below the waves, unable to go anywhere other than to another compartment of the sub and knowing that there is an unknown and waiting sea all around you waiting to rush in should anything untoward happen.

John McTiernan's classic 'The Hunt For Red October' is probably the film that redefined the genre, and while more acclaimed films of the sort - 'Das Boot' for example - have their proper place among the best, it remains the perfect undersea popcorn thriller. Elsewhere, you'll find films like 'Hunter Killer', 'Black Sea', 'Phantom', and 'K-19: The Widowmaker' which are... less than perfect.

Submarine movies are few and far between for a reason. It's difficult to dramatise the action onboard a submarine, which usually amounts to men with sweaty upper lips crouching in a darkened room firing torpedoes at other vessels in the water, which, as the viewer, you also can't see. Two big lumbering underwater machines moving around each other doesn't often make for dynamic viewing. Of course, being a submariner also means danger, and the threat of drowning, and dying underwater - so there's that.

Writer and director Antonin Baudry's tension-filled-to-the-point-silliness drama 'The Wolf's Call' is a fast-paced military action film with everything and more you've come to expect in 'The Hunt For Red October' popcorn-munching kind of story. The movie is also notable for being one of the biggest budget movies in the French industry, costing €20 million to make, receiving the support of the actual Marine Nationale and trying its best to be faithful to the operations of its submariners.

'THE WOLF'S CALL' TRAILER

Set sometime in the future, we open with an extraction off the coast of Syria where a team of silent commandos engage in a gun battle, take to the waters, and are picked up under the waves by a French submarine.

Inside the control room, Commander Grandchamp (Reda Kateb, 'Submergence') and his right-hand man D'Orsi (Omar Sy, 'Transformers: The Last Knight') are ready to make a stealthy getaway. However, this doesn't go exactly to plan as Chanteraide (François Civil, 'Who You Think I Am') - nicknamed "Socks", and serving as "golden ear", the officer specialised in underwater acoustics - detects a strange audio signature. "Four blades, but not a sub... and way too quiet to be a cargo ship," he ponders. At first, he classifies the contact as a sick sperm whale, but it quickly turns out that the contact is an unknown submarine transmitting their position to an Iranian frigate and a maritime helicopter operating in the area. Bombs are dropped and man-versus-helicopter rocket duel ensues.

Back on land, we learn the Russians have gone on the offensive and the United States have shrunk into isolationism, leaving the chance for a nuclear war. Chanteraide's hearing becomes crucial in detecting and identifying the enemy. He is convinced that the "wolf's call" he heard was something more - the term refers to the sonar that is dipped from the surface to detect the submarine (the device ultimately has little to do with the plot, its name seemingly being used because it sounds cool).

Chanteraide is positioned as a sort of superheroic mutant when it comes to acoustics, an undersea Daredevil-type who uses his hyper sense of hearing to go on some bits of investigation.

You see, Chanteraide is positioned as a sort of superheroic mutant when it comes to acoustics, an undersea Daredevil-type who uses his hyper sense of hearing to go on some bits of investigation. Even when he's balls deep in some gratuitous sex with a bookseller in the city (Paula Beer, 'Never Look Away', 'Transit'), the guy "hears" the ocean. It harkens back to Luc Besson's 'Big Blue' and is frequently silly - he is able to pick up the faintest sounds, knows when his girlfriend is sneaking up on him, and can identify a password by the sound of the keyboard. At one point, Chanteraide can hear the difference between an active and dummy missile launch. Fact is, the entire cast bolsters the credibility of the film with the likes of Civil, Jean-Yves Berteloot and Omar Sy building a lot personality out of their take in all this.

The movie is even goofier when you consider that it written and directed by Antonin Baudry, a former French diplomat specialising in cultural affairs, an adviser to the Prime Minister and a comic book author. 'The Wolf's Call' takes several jabs at the French administration for being slow and inefficient. For instance, an important military headquarters call to the President is put on hold for several seconds, accompanied by inappropriate music. Later, the admiral in command of the Strategic Oceanic Force (codename: ALFOST) complains about a broken computer screen that hasn't been replaced yet and demands an explanation from the crew, to which he is answered, "This is France."

There is a large section of the film set out of the water, but once back under the waves it moves more quickly, the story putting all its weight on Chanteraide's ears. If you're howling for a slice of Tom Clancy-esque military action cheese, you'll enjoy 'The Wolf's Call'.

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