Movie Review: The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack
Directed by: Crystal Moselle.

I’ve thought a lot about The Wolfpack in the week since I saw the documentary – and still am not quite sure if the film is inspirational, or tragic. The film is a look at the lives of the Angulo brothers – all of six of them, who grew up with their parents, and little sister, all sharing a small apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The brothers were home schooled, and very rarely allowed to leave the apartment at all – and never by themselves. Their father controlled them all – and didn’t want them to have contact with the corrupting forces of the outside world. But there was one thing from the outside he would let his sons see – movies. Lots and lots of movies. And the brothers fell in love with them, and got to see the world outside their tiny apartment through those movies – many of which, they would recreate, using ingenious means, turning everything they could find into material for props and costumes. Director Crystal Moselle met the brothers on one of their first trips outside their apartment on their own – when they were all dressed like Reservoir Dogs, and was eventually invited into their home to make this documentary – although she often lets the brothers take control of the camera, and the film itself.

On one level, The Wolfpack is an inspirational movie – the type that Hollywood loves, because it is about the love of movies, and how they can inspire people to become their best selves. Three recent Oscar winners – The Artist, Argo and Birdman – were about that in various ways, as they represent the good that art in general – and movies specifically- can do. For the Argulo brothers, you can argue that movies have kept them sane – and made them see the world outside of their apartment. They may not have been able to leave physically, but mentally, they could whenever they wanted to. At a certain point, they realized that their lives were not normal, and eventually gained the courage to leave – and start their own lives.

On another level though, The Wolfpack is a very sad movie – about a father who seems like a failed cult leader, who wanted to brainwash and control his family, who kept them under lock and key for years, and although he seems like a quiet man when interviewed in the movie, should perhaps be in jail. It’s to the documentary’s credit that it lets viewers decide how to take the movie. The movie doesn’t really judge its subjects – and Moselle quite clearly cares for the sons, and the mother, in the family – her feelings about the father are ambivalent at best. And while watching the movie, it’s easy to forget the darker aspects of this story. The sons seem happy and well-adjusted – friendly with each other, and Moselle. If their father had power over them – it’s gone now. He comes across as pathetic more than anything – a sad man whose goals are going unfulfilled.

The film is Moselle’s first, and refreshingly, she askews much of the standard issue documentary material than often drag down movies like this. There are no talking heads, no stats or other title cards, no one offering a larger perspective on the brothers. It really is an intimate documentary that allows its subjects to be at its core, and doesn’t look much beyond them. It doesn’t need to. This is a fascinating story all by itself – and Moselle was smart enough to see that, and let it play out in front of her camera.

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