The new year has barely begun, but we’ll be hard pressed to find a movie as disturbing – on many levels – as the darkly comic Israeli thriller “Big Bad Wolves.”
It’s about the torture of an accused child molester-serial killer. The torturers are sure they have their guy. The accused keeps protesting his innocence and suffering horribly.
We see cops use a stun gun on the guy’s dog, kidnap him, beat him with a phone book, bloody him and ruin his life. The police smirk and joke around as they carry out this destruction.
“Maniacs aren’t afraid of guns,” one experienced toenail-yanker says, justifying this lunacy. “Maniacs are afraid of maniacs.” So, that’s just who the cops become – maniacs.
And chillingly, co-writers/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado intercut grim crime scene moments and extended, dread-building torture sessions with chuckles at the funny ring tones on this or that cop’s phone, at the bullying butterball son of the rotund police chief (Dvir Benedek of the Israeli sumo comedy, “A Matter of Size”) who parrots his dad’s criticism of loose-cannon cop Micki (Lior Ashkenazi).
A game of hide-and-seek ends with a little girl snatched from the closet of the abandoned house she and her friends are playing in. We aren’t given the “evidence” the cops have for making mild-mannered schoolteacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) their only suspect. Next thing you know, four cops are dragging Dror into an empty warehouse and beating his head in with a phone book. A hidden teen tapes the torture on his phone.
But when that video goes viral, there’s no outrage. Kids in Dror’s junior high school class laugh at it and assume the police must have had good reason. His boss is the same way.
And Dror doesn’t go to other cops or the media to protest this. That’s puzzling, in a stack-the-deck sort of way.
Still, a scandal is about to erupt, and Micki is put on leave from the force. Most of the movie is about the bizarre, sometimes excruciating “enhanced interrogation methods” Dror is subjected to in the most cavalier ways. And not just by Micki.
Most disturbing of all is the amusingly matter-of-fact way the movie suggests that every Israeli you run across has some experience torturing somebody. Everybody’s an expert. National service in the Army is the rationale for that. A scene or two with an unconcerned Palestinian bystander suggests that people used to dehumanizing others have no problem waterboarding, busting fingers or playing with fire with any suspect, Muslim or Jewish. The army taught them.
Like “Hostel,” many moments will make you avert your eyes. There’s a touch of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” self-righteousness. As in “Touch of Evil,” we’re made to ponder the “any means necessary” approach of police whom we’re just supposed to trust will “always get their man.”
And here and there, we’re supposed to laugh. Even though Keinan does a poor job of playing the cumulative effects of broken bones, burns and cuts, torture is a hard thing to turn funny. Perhaps that’s the broader point. If you laugh at this, you’re culpable, too. And if you made a comedy about something your security folks have been caught doing more often than not, perhaps the filmmakers are as well.
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