Surveillance and found-footage films have been used for scares, for reflections on the digital age, and purely for the fun of piecing together a story from many everyday viewpoints. Jonathan Ogilvie’s LONE WOLF takes Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent into a near-future Australia, where the surveillance state can see – and access – every waking and sleeping moment. A recently redundant staffer has asked the Police Minister to review two tapes around a recent terrorist bombing attempt – much to his surprise, as he already labelled the attack a “lone wolf” and closed the case. The plot, of course, thickens.
Conrad’s tales explore the depth of human weakness, but LONE WOLF is more interested in the most arch portrayals of vice, folly, and champions of justice. This focus is not necessarily a drawback – Ogilvie’s script is at its best when it leans into the over-the-top, backed up by a cast who know which of their moments are serious and which one to deliver with a raised eyebrow. Any social commentary is secondary to fun – and the criminal underbellies of both police department and environmental terrorism offer plenty of the latter.
The pulpy delivery works best within the law enforcement offices. Hugo Weaving is a stellar choice for the Police Minister, with a star power that cements his perceived untouchability and a full commitment to every hardboiled line delivery. The activists, whose plot is largely more sincere, feel underserved by the film in comparison – perhaps because niceness does not quite lend itself to twists and conspiracies as does seediness. However, the relationship between the main conspirator’s wife, Winne (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), and her developmentally disabled brother Stevie (Chris Bunton) provides a human, heartfelt touch to the documentary they unwittingly create and star in. Stevie’s presence takes on a different dimension than that in Conrad’s original, lifting him into more agency – a strong choice that avoids some of the more old-fashioned tropes in which the novel deals.
Unfortunately, the second act’s pace drops despite the dramatic reveals, and the film is perhaps twenty minutes too long for this story. The cuts between surveillance and home video documentation and a more traditional style in the framing story do much of the satisfying “detective work” for the audience, instead of letting the pieces fall into place organically. However, as seedy genre entertainment, LONE WOLF hits the mark.