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|Into the Wild|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir-scr Sean Penn|
with Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Thure Lindhardt, Signe Egholm Olsen, Zach Galifianakis
release US 21.Sep.07, UK 9.Nov.07
07/US Paramount 2h20
Mountain man: Hirsch
Based on a true story, immaculately recreated on screen, this intensely dramatic road tale is filmed with sensitivity and earthy authenticity. And it packs a strong punch for anyone who might be sick of their too-busy life.
Chris McCandless (Hirsch) is a bright young star, just graduated from Emory and heading for Harvard, although his parents (Harden and Hurt) don't know that he's actually planning something dramatically different. His sister (Malone) understands, though, as he vanishes on a personal quest, renaming himself Alexander Supertramp and hitching across country east to west then north to south, meeting along the way a pair of hippies (Keener and Dierker), a lively farmer (Vaughn), an under-aged singer (Stewart) and a lonely retiree (Holbrook), before ending up, as planned, on his own in the Alaskan wilderness.
With a series of interlaced flashbacks, the film layers in such a wide range of issues that it sometimes feels overpowering. But as it progresses, Chris' personal quest becomes profoundly challenging, anchored by a riveting, fully committed performance by Hirsch. It's a physically gruelling role, which keep grounded within Chris' sense of wit and curiosity. And the cast around him is equally realistic, deepening their small roles with strong moments of raw emotion.
As a writer and director, Penn has a tendency to make things a little too serious and cinematic. He rails against materialistic society and political hypocrisy, and indulges in iconic slo-mo movie moments plus a sobering, abrupt conclusion. But the self-reflection is powerfully honest, and the landscapes are genuinely spectacular--from the baking desert to the snowy wilderness, kayaking through the Grand Canyon or prowling the mean streets of Los Angeles.
Underpinning everything is Chris' strong moral code, which flies in the face of capitalistic society. He doesn't want to be driven by money, although he knows he needs to get odd jobs along the way to pay his expenses. He doesn't want to be tied down by people, although he discovers that happiness is only real when it's shared. And he knows that the human spirit needs to be fed on new experiences. In this sense, Chris' story can't be anything less than life-changing. And this film is an excellent document of his spirit.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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