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|All the Wilderness
dir-scr Michael Johnson
prd Jonathan Schwartz, Andrea Sperling
with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Virginia Madsen, Isabelle Fuhrman, Danny DeVito, Evan Ross, Sarah Buckley, Chase Offerle, Gilberto Martin del Campo, Pat Janowski, Hannah Barefoot, Castillo Morales, William Chin
release US 20.Feb.15
On the edge: Fuhrman and Smit-McPhee
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
A sensitive voyage of discovery, this film is an artful, impressionistic collage with a loose narrative about a teen boy trying to make sense of the world around him. But his ultimate breakthrough feels oddly simplistic, and the meandering structure is gloomy and only vaguely thoughtful. In other words, this feels more like a visual poem than a fully formed exploration of grief, guilt, teen angst or feeling like an outsider.
In rural Oregon, James (Smit-McPhee) is a teen who feels lost. It's been six months since his dad died, and he thinks he's somehow connected to mortality, both his own and those around him, including his hamster Elliott. While his therpist (DeVito) pointedly prods him, his mother (Madsen) worries that something is seriously wrong. Especially when James gets into a fight with the local bully (Offerle). Meanwhile, James meets street musician Harmon (Ross) and begins to fall for Val (Fuhrman), both of whom share his askew view of the world.
The muted tone makes the plot so understated that it barely seems to exist. Writer-director Johnson follows James on his morose quest, dropping hints here and revelations there until the full picture emerges to explain his mopiness. All of this is realistic, with suppressed emotions, murmured dialog and people who don't want anyone else to notice that something's wrong. Then in his poetic voiceover, James talks about how he's a wolf with "a bad moon in me", blaming himself for the angry jealousy he feels when Harmon and Val are drawn to each other.
Smit-McPhee is solid, even though the character is relentlessly passive. Harmon and Val add energy through confidence, wit and ruthless honesty, plus some dark edges. Madsen is superb as James' on-edge mum. And DeVito shines in a sardonic against-type role. Because he's the only one who seems able to see the situation from the outside, his brief scenes snap everything into focus as he simply tells it like it is: "You can either keep going like you're going, or you can deal with it."
Otherwise the film feels moody and draggy. It's lushly shot and edited, cleverly catching James' eccentric perspective. His vulnerability is palpable, mainly because the filmmaker takes his time revealing what the real issue is. But getting there feels rather circuitous, playing the "wilderness" theme for all it's worth. And with a central character this blank, it's difficult to get involved in his personal odyssey. So the sudden cathartic ending is rather flimsy.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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