Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Into the Wild" takes you away

My freelance review:
The new film Into the Wild continues to be on my mind, almost ten days after seeing it.

As writer/director, Sean Penn has created a masterpiece. Adapted from Jon Krakauer's best-seller, Into the Wild tells the story of Christopher McCandless (played by the little-known but very talented Emile Hirsch), an upper-middle-class young man, just graduated from college, who rebelliously opts to donate his savings to charity, leave society and journey to the Alaskan wilderness to become one with nature.

And what a journey McCandless has! South Dakota, Arizona, Alaska, Mexico, California... the authentic and scenic locations come to vivid life thanks to cinematographer Eric Gautier, who produces some of the most beautifully captured pictures I have ever seen.

The story bounces around chronologically to great effect, providing balance to the generally-episodic nature of McCandless' trek. The stories and characters that unfold throughout the episodes add a lot of depth to the film. Through flashbacks and narration by McCandless' younger sister, we observe the dysfunctional relationship between McCandless and his parents, played by Marcia Gay Harden and the always-terrific William Hurt. It's interesting, in contrast, observing McCandless with the sweet, caring hippee woman (played by the endearing Catherine Keener) who provides a type of maternal relationship to him, and then later in the film with an Army retiree (tenderly played by Hal Holbrook) serving as his surrogate father.

And it's in such relationships that we see the ever-so-philosophical McCandless coming to life. At one point in his travels, he develops a buddy relationship with a farmer played by Vince Vaughn (demonstrating a considerably wider acting range than his typical film roles allow). McCandless also bonds with a talented young woman (played by Kristen Stewart) living in a California desert RV camp that attracts non-conformists and vagabonds. He takes to making music with her; a touching, soothing moment in the film has the two of them singing to the desert commune the John Prine song "Angel in Montgomery."

Also contributing to the overall mood of the film is the powerful soundtrack by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. His songs are haunting and fit the movie perfectly.

There's great appeal to watching this film. Beyond the acting, the cinematography, the editing, the music, the mood -- all of which are great -- there's something more. Perhaps deep down, at some point or another, each of us has had a desire or an impulse to run away, perhaps to leave civilization, to push our lives in another direction. Few of us, for various reasons, ever do. Witnessing the story of someone who has made this happen, I found an utter fascination to observe and to study -- and, for a few hours, to allow myself to be taken away.

I don't expect to find a better, more engaging film this year than Into the Wild.

1 comment:

scoodog said...

Be sure to check out my review of Call of the Wild, a documentary that further examines the subject of Into the Wild.