Sunday, September 23, 2007

TIFF 2007 Review: "Into The Wild"

(Special Presentations)
(USA, 148 minutes)
Written and Directed by Sean Penn
Based on the book by Jon Krakauer
Starring Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook

I think Sean Penn is a really good actor, a bit of a blowhard in real life, but a really, really, great director. I’m a huge fan of this previous three films, “The Indian Runner,” “The Crossing Guard” and “The Pledge.” Each film possesses and emotional core so heart-wrenching that sometimes they’re hard to watch again – for me personally, especially the second one – but I’ve never forgotten them.

He's back with his fourth film, "Into The Wild," the true story of Christopher McCandless (played with enigmatic brilliance and energy by Emile Hirsch), a young man who, upon graduating from college, decides to give away his life savings and drop out of society without a word to his family. His ultimate goal is Alaska, where he intends to live in complete isolation. The film’s timeline crosses back and forth between McCandless’ last few weeks living in an abandoned bus in the stunning Alaskan bush and his two-year cross-country (and then some) journey.

McCandless has an almost manic idealism that does touch and inspire people on the way. He befriends a travelling hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker) and brings them closer together; he works at a farm for a somewhat shady good ol’ boy (a great cameo from Vince Vaughn) and brings a lonely old man (Hal Holbrook, moving and melancholy) out of his reclusive shell. But Penn doesn't gloss over the fact that there's a fair bit of self-centeredness to his decision, and portrays that through the anguish of his family – parents, played by Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt, and sister, played by Jena Malone – at his disappearance from their lives.

McCandless’ personal journey is as much of a roller coaster as his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants lifestyle, and stunningly beautiful cinematography by Eric Gautier, making the most of America's diverse natural beauty, as well as an evocative and often rollicking score by Michael Brook, Kaki King and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, help bring it all to life. It’s at times uplifting, and then sweet and sad and ultimately tragic; it's a great complex film that's certain to gain attention come awards season.

©2007 Robert J. Lewis