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‘Shadow of the Wolf’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 06, 1993

With a price tag of $31 million, "Shadow of the Wolf" is being called "the most expensive motion picture in Canadian film history." Watching it, you have to ask, "What did they spend all that money on? Dog food?"

Certainly, all that expense is not visible on the screen. What is on the screen? Ice. Lots of ice. And Donald Sutherland, who plays some sort of arctic policeman, and can't possibly get A-list money anymore. There's also Lou Diamond Phillips as Agaguk, the son of an Eskimo tribe's shaman leader, Kroomak, who is played under a great deal of hair and fur by Toshiro Mifune, who breaks with his son because they both have eyes for Igiyook, who, in a surreal bit of casting, is played by Jennifer Tilly.

Set in the '30s in an Inuit village somewhere in the great white north, this Jacques Dorfman film is almost certain to attain some sort of instant cult classic status. Based on the Yves Theriault novel about the disastrous effects of white civilization on the primitive, traditional culture of the Inuits, the movie is just bad enough to be considered camp, but still not bad enough to be fun.

Basically, what you have here is a bunch of guys in fur coats bouncing around inside igloos, talking like they all came from the Bronx. In this department, Tilly -- who adds a dash of bimbo to her ballpark intonations -- is a real standout. Phillips is almost as priceless; plus, his character's face is mauled by a wolf near the end of the film, forcing him to wear an odd leather mask, which makes him look like a furball "Phantom of the Opera."

We also get to watch as Agaguk helps Igiyook deliver their baby, which doesn't have an umbilical cord in one shot, then sprouts one in the next. Sutherland, whose long face peeks out from his swaddling of furs like a hatchet blade, has dyed his hair a shade of dark crimson that is so atrociously phony you half expect red rivulets to dribble down his face when it gets wet. As for Mifune, his whole performance seems to consist of his not shaving.

Though Billy Williams's arctic images are majestic, the stiffness of the actors as they deliver their turgid, pretentiously mythic lines reduces his landscapes to stagey backdrops.

The movie is supposed to be about preserving the purity of the Inuit lifestyle, but if that's the point, why use mostly non-Eskimo actors to make it? Maybe Eskimo actors work too cheap, and without stars to hike up the budget, the film would lose its one selling point. Whatever the case, somebody's not getting his money's worth -- and that's even if the $31 million is counted in Canadian dollars.

"Shadow of the Wolf" is rated PG-13 and contains some nudity, sensuality and violence toward both man and beast (though, the filmmakers assert, no animals were actually injured).

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