Shadow Wolves is a diverse, timely film with something to say, but it needed a much better script and livelier direction to truly work.
Shadow Wolves is a timely, diverse little action thriller, with a political viewpoint plugged straight into the cultural mains, with things to say about immigrant scaremongering and U.S. interventionist foreign policy. The problem is that thanks to a lackluster script from director McKay Daines, it doesn’t manage to say those things very cleverly, convincingly or interestingly.
But the setup is intriguing, at the very least. In real life, the Shadow Wolves are a tactical unit of elite Native American trackers who’re part of ICE, everyone’s favorite modern-day government-sanctioned bogeyman. They exist to help protect America’s borders, and we meet them in the film as they work covertly on the U.S./Mexico border. Everything about them feels ripped straight from our current political moment, and faintly provocative, too. But the film doesn’t have much interest in that kind of bear-baiting vibe, which is probably just as well; instead, it’s a straightforward action thriller with an underlying subtext of cultural tradition and clashing that is enough to make it more interesting than the usual genre fare but perhaps not strictly “better” in any measurable sense.
The villain, for instance, a terminally ill terrorist with a beef against the Shadow Wolves since they led an American drone to his family, feels almost cartoonish, despite his relatable grievances. And much of the discussion about differing values, beliefs and cultures — mostly exemplified through Cody Walker as an NSA agent in the employ of the unit’s Washington-based Colonel financier (Thomas Gibson) — is too on-the-nose and stilted to be taken all that seriously.
That having been said, the excellent Graham Greene leads the unit, and their dynamic feels refreshing. The action, shot mostly for realism rather than action-movie bombast, is clear and efficient, if not particularly exciting, and in amongst the overly familiar plot elements and plentiful cliches is a better film deserving of a better script and livelier direction. Such a politically-charged film needs sharper teeth if it wants to bite deep enough to leave a mark.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.