Into The Wild
Review by Jack Foley
SEAN Penn has been waiting to make Into The Wild for 10 years and it’s clear that the project is a labour of love for him.
The film is a beautifully constructed tribute to college graduate Christopher McCandless who, in 1992, decided to donate all his savings to charity and head off in search of adventure and spiritual fulfilment in Alaska.
It’s also a rallying call to viewers to get out there and embrace life themselves, to see the world and the beauty it has to offer, even though McCandless’ own journey eventually followed a darker path.
As both writer and director, Penn provides viewers with an absorbing and thought-provoking experience that boasts some stunning natural world cinematography from Eric Gautier and a towering central performance from Emile Hirsch.
The young actor inhabits McCandless physically and spiritually – offering a fascinating insight into a complex personality whose capacity to inspire the people he met is offset by an arrogance that ultimately contributed to his fate. When life lessons are delivered, they don’t always provide the answers he was seeking and often lead to greater insecurity and fear.
Strong, too, are the supporting performances from a cast that includes William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden (as Chris’s parents), and the likes of Vince Vaughn, Catherine Kenner and Hal Holbrook as the people he meets along the way.
Crucially, Penn doesn’t shirk from exploring some of the harsh truths surrounding the McCandless family even though he resolutely refuses to point any fingers of blame. As a result, the film maintains a balance not usually associated with projects of this nature and affords every actor the chance to shine (just witness the pain in Hurt’s eyes as he learns of his son’s journey).
Of the people Chris meets along the way, Keener’s kindly hippy provides a genuinely moving mother figure, Kristen Stewart a suitably tempting love interest and Vince Vaughn injects his trademark charisma as a Dakotan farmer in a role that stretches the actor dramatically. But it’s Hal Holbrook’s lonely carpenter who leaves the most lasting impression, especially during his latter scenes with Chris that really are heartbreaking – the actor deserves a best supporting actor nomination at the very least!
By adopting a non-linear approach to the story, Penn also ensures that viewers are kept on their toes and that the film never feels episodic, and he remains careful to properly capture the surrounding environment in all its danger and glory. Several of the set pieces feel jaw-droppingly authentic, including a river rapids sequence that was captured for real.
It’s clear that Penn has learned much from his experiences with Terrence Malick and Clint Eastwood, as the film contains several stylistic nods to both.
Into The Wild is therefore a deeply impressive road movie that dazzles and empowers in spite of its dark heart. For Penn, especially, it’s a defining moment in an already illustrious career.
Running time: 2hrs 30mins
UK DVD Release: March 10, 2008
- Buy it (HMV)
- Buy it (Amazon)
- Buy it on HD DVD (Amazon)
- Read the review
- Sean Penn interview
- Emile Hirsch interview
- Into The Wild UK premiere gallery
- Read our preview & US reaction
- Buy the novel