We call films that try telling a story in a different way “innovative” or “experimental” when they work, “gimmicky” when they don’t.
“Lone Wolf” is an Australian thriller about police infiltration and documentation of an anarchist protestor group, what goes wrong and who covers up what. It’s told through accumulated closed circuit TV, police surveillance mini-cam and cell phone video footage.
That creates a mildly-chilling “found footage” vibe, emphasis on “mildly.” But despite a reasonably consistent visual strategy — most scenes have a “Here’s where the camera is, and this is why it’s there” logic — it manages no suspense, and zero “thrills.”
It’s gimmicky. The revolution may still be televised, but it still needs violent action to come off.
Much of the story is related through a large video file that a police investigator (Diana Glenn) makes her two superiors (Hugo Weaving and Stephen Curry) sit through. It’s related to a crime that they’ve all been investigating, an “incident” from when Australia hosted a G20 summit.
We see traffic control camera footage of Melbourne street scenes, and hacked CCTV security footage from inside a book store and “marital aids” shop, Night Watchman Books. Winnie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey of “Hotel Mumbai”) runs the register and keeps an eye on her slightly younger brother.
Stevie (Chris Bunton of “Relic”) is “on the spectrum,” high-functioning but labeled “diminished capacity.” He’s sensitive to loud noises and shouting and is fond of recording cell phone video of the people in his life and strangers on the street, narrating his observations about these strange animals called the human race in imitation of his favorite TV presenter, Sir David Attenborough.
“Do they even know they’re being watched?” Stevie wonders. Indeed.
Winnie’s an animal rights activist living with musician and anarchist Conrad (Josh McConville of “Fantasy Island”). Conrad may wear the T-shirts with the anarchist “A” symbol on them, and work in a shop that sells “The Anarchist Cookbook.” But he prefers the label “minarchist.” That explains the name of the shop. They’re minimal government liberatarians advocating a mere “night watchman state.”
They muddle along, not selling enough books or what have you to make rent, with Conrad meeting up with his co-conspirators Hippy Karl (Tyler Coppin), Father Michaelis (Lawrence Mooney) and the shallow, rich gigolo Alex Ossipon (Marlon Williams) to pointlessly debate this or that, and do nothing about it.
They aren’t a “cell,” no matter what they might be capable of. Stevie, who collects “collective nouns,” provides the right word to describe them. They’re a “whoop” of gorillas.
Then a mysterious man of money and motivation named Vladimir throws money at Conrad to stage something during the G20.
“To truly influence public opinion, you need to commit an outrage.” He has in mind a “victimless atrocity.” Conrad won’t bite, but Vladimir (Karlis Zaid) knows that Conrad’s a police informant, and now so do we. “If word of that got out” is great blackmail.
We get the dynamic of this “family,” go an hour between the opening and again seeing the police watching all this captured footage in the office of the corrupt, cynical minister of public safety (Weaving). In essence, writer-director Jonathan Ogilvie (“Emulsion”) misses most of what would have made this “thriller” thrilling.
The limited camera point of view narrows down what we get to see. Ossipon hitting on Winnie, Stevie joining them for a trip to the beach, our “minister” captured on video call having sex with his “rent boy,” etc.
The most interesting CCTV moment is an earlier animal rights stunt, activists disguised in wolfshead masks, free baby chicks, herding them out of frame and into the camera’s field of vision. That’s the movie “Lone Wolf” could have been.
Little of the planning and none of the prep for the “atrocity” is seen. The script has reasons for that, “twists” at the tail end of the picture. By then, the quiet, action-starved and static shots of actors mostly under-acting for CCTV or surveillance cameras (some black-and-white) has robbed “Lone Wolf” of any suspense or urgency.
The film manages to be intriguing but seriously dull.
The earliest antecedent for this sort of picture might be Sidney Lumet’s “The Anderson Tapes,” a 1971 heist picture reconstructed through secret police recordings of those involved. Lumet knew that you can’t cheat the viewer of action, violence, suspense about what will happen and to whom, just to serve your stylistic approach.
Otherwise, all you’re left with is just a gimmick.
Rating: unrated, violence, sex, profanity
Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Josh McConville, Diana Glenn, Chris Bunton, Marlon Williams and Hugo Weaving.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Jonathan Olgilve. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:44