Writers: Toby Kearton (story) Samuel Christopher Ellis (story) Ben Mole (screenplay)
Director: Giles Alderson
Films about World War II usually include: more men than women, treacherous countryside and nasty Nazis, plus expressions of manly emotion. Wolves of War has all those, but it fails to convince on all levels.
It’s 1939. Jack Wallace (Ed Westwick) is reading a bedtime story to his daughter. Then it’s 1945 and he’s in a plane with some men he doesn’t know. We learn a few things. Jack is now a decorated war hero; one of the men, Deegan (Sam Gittins), is Irish; and they’re in serious danger (one man’s dead before they bale out). Only when the four survivors have extricated themselves from their parachutes do we find out that they’re on a sketchily planned version of Operation Alsos, the American-led mission to find and capture German nuclear scientists. This team’s task is to retrieve Professor Hopper, an American who has lived in Germany for twenty-five years, so may be supposed to be on the wrong side. As well as courageous Jack, and Deegan the wit (admiring a gun he says, “If you shoot yourself can I have it?”), there is the battle-hardened captain (Matt Willis) and Connor (Jackson Bews), a Harvard scientist brought along officially to identify the Professor but really to explain to the audience why it’s so important to get the Professor and his notes before the Germans use them to make an atomic bomb. He seems to be a bit of a liability, with not much firearm training.
The body count rises briskly. There are some ready-made corpses courtesy of the Russians who passed through earlier, but the brave quartet themselves see off an uncountable number of Germans thanks to a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bullets. Sometimes, for the sake of variety, they use bare hands or knives and at one point a coffee pot. They quickly obtain the help of an undercover operator – a farmer’s widow, played with stern dignity by Eva Magyar. She provides the transport for the inevitable car chase. There’s also a handsome horse which allows for a brief Lone-Ranger-style ride-by shooting sequence.
The actors do their best with a carelessly- thought -out plot and a minimal script, full of lines like “Go go go!” or “Wait!.” It’s not clear whether the ‘wolves’ of the title refer to the ‘Wolfsangels’ (supposedly a secret German militia) or to Jack’s notion that everyone has a good and bad wolf within them, and “the one that wins is the one we feed the most.” He worries that his daughter will “see what I’ve become”- yet it’s hard to see what, in the context of a war film, he has to be ashamed of. Apart from when he ungallantly pushes the drippy Connor out of the plane, his character is permanently compassionate – always trying to save lives. Max Themak has fun as the German commander. He’s obviously bad because he struts about in a long black coat, sneers, and speaks German like they did in post-war comics: “Come out or we kill the Kinder!” he demands – why not just speak English? We know he can.
What marks this film out is its staggering lack of attention to detail. When two German-speaking children are discovered hiding, the camera pauses on a battered copy of Enid Blyton’s The Castle of Adventure (published 1946). According to the screen, the film opens in 1939; Westwick’s Modern RP accent immediately makes this impossible to believe. Robyn Manton’s costume design includes such desirable pieces as Connor’s leather jacket- too bad it gets a big blood stain on it –but often they don’t fit the story. No wonder Jack has to keep dodging behind trees -he’s wearing a highly visible white shirt. Most striking and jarring, however, is the ‘Bavarian’ church where the parachutists meet. It’s obviously Norman. You start to suspect the doughty band has never left Blighty. It’s all pretend.
Signature Entertainment presentsWolvesofWaronDigital Platforms 12th Septemberand DVD 19th September.