JT Film Review

69 – Never Cry Wolf (1983)

Never Cry Wolf REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Carroll Ballard

Cast – Charles Martin Smith, Brian Dennehy, Zachary Ittimangnaq


Never Cry Wolf was released in 1983 to not much publicity, and certainly not to much of a box office return (though I understand it made a comfortable profit). Its star wasn’t a huge name, but had spent three years making the movie. It wasn’t an independent movie (produced by Disney, and was the first Disney film to show naked buttocks), but if released today would most certainly have been. I can’t see any major studio agreeing to fund this nowadays. It’s too simple an idea, and too un-commercial. It is also very, very good.

This movie is in a way very “high concept”, which means that it has a very basic idea at its core and then works from that. Speed is often used as an example of that. There’s a bomb on a bus and the bus can’t go under 50 mph, go! This is about a man sent to study wolves. That’s it. It promises very little up front except its concept, and delivers wonderfully. One can imagine a studio executive seeing the idea for this movie and deciding to spruce up the plot by adding large amounts of human conflict. That is not done here at all. We see the world the main character is uncovering as he uncovers it, and not before.

The main character (never named, but as the book is purportedly semi-autobiographical it is assumed he is Mowatt himself) is sent to the Canadian North to study wolves and determine if they are part of the cause for the declining numbers of the caribou . He is sent to an unknown area, with useless food (canned food, but no can opener), few tools and even less knowledge; his orders are to find a wolf, kill it, and examine its entrails, thus determining what the wolf feeds on. With more enthusiasm than common sense he sets out on his errand.

After a while he finds a pair of wolves and, finding himself unwilling to shoot one, sets to observing them. Gradually he gains enough of their trust that he can set up a camp a short distance away without the wolves interfering. We are shown this through a series of amusing, yet touching and enticing scenes that really immerse us in the feeling of the area. While this movie is certainly fairly heavy it doesn’t shy away from some wonderful comedic pieces, which both lighten up the tone and give a great sense of humanity to the whole thing.

Many people have taken issue with Farley Mowatt’s admitted tendency to (as he said) “…not let facts interfere with the truth.”  While Mowatt claims that the book (and thus the film) is autobiographical and is all true, many have pointed out several flaws. For example he was not alone on this exhibition, but was part of a party of three. He claims he was sent to provide justification for killing wolves, but in actuality was simply sent to examine the relationship between caribou and wolves.

Such criticisms may be true, and most people seem to hold them as such. However if the movie is good, then it is good, plain and simple, regardless of its technical accuracy. This argument is often used to support the study of The Birth of a Nation (1915), a movie which practically single-handedly invented the “language” of cinema yet is incredibly racist; and Triumph of the Will (1935), a Nazi-made documentary that is often called on of the most influential movies of its type. Never Cry Wolf makes assertions about the nature of wolves, and seems to seriously call into question man’s nature as a  carnivore. Even though the movie raises some derisive questions, the answers it gives to them should not detract from its value as an artistic statement.


Never Cry Wolf is emotional yet subtle, thoughtful yet strong, and is a genuinely human movie. It is slow-paced, but that adds to the emotional resonance of the movie. It’s ending does feel a tad like a “cop-out”, but it still raises interesting questions. The sequences involving wolves evoke surprisingly strong feelings of empathy, and must have been very difficult to shoot. Definitely recommended.


Movie Clip (No Trailer Found)

“Never Cry Wolf” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia



December 27, 2009 - Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , ,

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