American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
An intriguing film named “Wolfen,” which is not about werewolves but is about the possibility that Indians and wolves can exchange souls, has crept stealthily into several Chicago theaters. Despite the fact that it stars Albert Finney, was directed by Michael Wadleigh (“Woodstock”), and is an uncommonly intelligent treatment of a theme that is usually just exploited, the movie arrived without much advance publicity. If the subject interests you, move fast, before “Wolfen” closes.
The story begins with the mysterious killing of a politician, his wife, and their chauffeur. There are lots of suspects and lots of motives, but the clues are puzzling: the bodies were slashed to ribbons, but apparently not with blades of any known metal. Could the wounds have been caused by teeth?
Albert Finney, a cop with assorted psychological problems, is put on the case, teamed up with another officer (Diane Venora). They begin to gather a fact here, a hunch there. Could wolves have done this damage? Scientists discover wolf hairs on several of the dead bodies that begin to turn up. But wolves are supposed to be extinct in the East, and certainly within New York City.
The movie intercuts the police investigation with imaginative scenes shot from the wolves' point of view. These are fast-moving tracking shots; the camera swoops down streets at the eye-level of a wolf, pausing, taking cover, following one track and then another. Wadleigh suggests a wolf's senses with special optical effects in which objects with a scent also seem to shimmer.