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Into The Wild - Preview & US reaction

Into The Wild

Preview by Jack Foley

SEAN Penn may be considered one of the greatest actors of his generation but his films as director have yet to attract quite such widespread acclaim.

Into The Wild, his latest, could well change that (even though we’re firm fans of his previous effort, The Pledge starring Jack Nicholson).

The film is based on a true story and the bestselling book by Jon Krakauer. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch) abandoned his possessions and gave his entire $24,000 savings to charity in order to hitchhike to Alaska to live in the wilderness.

Along the way, he encounters a series of characters that shape his life, as well as a number of experiences that take him to the ragged edge.

Into The Wild features an award-winning cast that includes Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River), William Hurt (A History Of Violence), Jena Malone (Donnie Darko), Catherine Keener (Capote/The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers/Old School).

The story has resonated with Penn for more than a decade, ever since 1996, when the actor found it while browsing at a bookstore and was captivated by its cover photograph showing an old school bus in the snowy interior of Alaska, where McCandless took shelter for nearly four months.

“I’ve been a longtime advocate of judging a book by its cover,” he said in an interview at the recent Toronto International Film Festival. “Something about the bus I could say even looked familiar. So I grabbed it and ended up reading it cover to cover twice in a row that night and started trying to get the film rights the next morning. That became a long process.”

He went on to say that much of the appeal in the story lay in the young man’s ferocious desire to strip away the trappings of his cozy upbringing.

“The idea of somebody facing a lesson about themselves, a lesson about purpose, a life lesson like that with so little time, no time, to do anything other than be willing to know it. That was just gigantic to me,” he told Toronto. “I guess it was the completion of the story that appealed to me the most. The way that he was able to birth himself and bring himself to a wizened old age in two years.”

The film is to be featured at this year’s London Film Festival and already looks set to become one of the hot tickets. It opened in America at the weekend (September 21-23) and drew largely favourable reviews.

Variety wrote that “Sean Penn delivers a compelling, ambitious work that will satisfy most admirers of the book”, and the New York Times stated: “There’s plenty of sorrow to be found in Into The Wild but though the film’s structure may be tragic, its spirit is anything but.”

Box Office Magazine opined: “Although Into the Wild carries with it a tragic undercurrent, Penn illuminates the graceful aspects of Christopher’s ultimate search for self to overall illuminating effect.”

And Entertainment Weekly concludes: “Into the Wild will haunt anyone willing to take the trip.”