Sunday, 11 November 2007

Into The Wild-Review by Carmody Wilson

Director: Sean Penn
Screenwriter: Sean Penn
Rating: 15
Time:140 Minutes
Release Date: Out Now

Into The Wild is Sean Penn’s most adult, most intimate and most immediately accessible work on film, and he isn’t even in front of the camera. What his other directorial performances in The Pledge and The Crosing Guard, there were a strong sense of story, and you could fairly feel Penn urging you to empathize with his characters. In Into the Wild, there is an almost laid-back, anodyne style to the storytelling, with the power of the performances and the cart- wheeling of inevitable tragedy that rolls the film along, rather than a directorial push of personality. And this comes despite the director’s obvious love for actor Emile Hirsch. Penn’s camera at times is too close, too curious for comfort, and as when McCandless’s sister describes her brother doing something “with characteristic immoderation”, one could imagine she’s speaking of Penn, who takes every opportunity to let Hirsch charm and seduce the audience with his easy smile and guileless ambitions.

The story is of Christopher McCandless, a middle class college graduate who threw off his burdensome social responsibilities, burned his money and set off into America’s wild heart for some anonymous adventuring. His ultimate goal was to survive off the land in the great, gracious wilds of Alaska without the aid of maps, compass, proper knowledge, or experience. Hunters found his starved, frozen body in an abandoned bus some seven miles from a national park. The author Jon Krakauer, whose other books on real-life tragedies are sure to be snapped up for celluloid, chronicled McCandless’s misguided misfortune in his book of the same name, Into the Wild.

Emile Hirsch, the winsome, appealing, and freshly handsome actor, plays McCandless without a hint of irony or pathos. His plight seems so obvious, his naiveté and arrogance so compelling, that these flaws are rendered all the more tragic for his transparent motivations. When McCandless meets hippy travelers Rainey and Jan (Brian Bierker and Catherine Keener), you just want to shout “you’re only replacing your parents with them, can’t you see?!” His relationships with almost every character he encounters act as surrogate attachments for the ones he has left behind, and nowhere is this more touching than when McCandless encounters Ron Franz, (the incredible Hal Holbrook), an aging ex-serviceman who in desperation asks to adopt McCandless to prevent him from embarking on his foolhardy adventure. McCandless, with an easy shrug of one on a one-way track to destiny, fobs off the offer, and the look of pain and impotence in Holbrook’s eyes is unforgettable. Everyone knows what’s going to happen to McCandless except for McCandless.

The scenery is breathtaking, the characters deep-rooted, and the story unforgettable, and it’s not hard to imagine dozens of other Chris McCandless wannabes divining inspiration from what can be called a worry-free, charmed, adventure-laden coast toward tragedy. Add to this Eddie Vedder’s soul-howling as sweeping shots of snowy mountain ranges rush past, and you have one hell of an incentive to be as idiotic as McCandless was. But for the more centered and less impulsive of us, this film is less a tourist brochure and more a beautiful cautionary tale of one passionate, woefully ignorant young man, and all the broken hearts he left behind, as he ventured Into the Wild.

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