Tuesday, December 23, 2014

[Review] Wild

Jean-Marc Vallée, director of last year's great Dallas Buyers Club, a movie driven by two powerhouse performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, follows that up with Wild. There's another strong performance here from Reese Witherspoon in a tremendously rugged role. Wild possesses the spirit of 2007's Into The Wild, and it's a lot more interesting than this year's other soul-searching trek into the wilderness, Tracks.

It opens with Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) preparing to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,600 mile + distance from California to Canada. We don't know too much about Cheryl at first, but her backstory is revealed in a series of separate flashbacks that involve her relationships with her ex-husband (Thomas Sadoski), her mother (Laura Dern), and her best friend (Gaby Hoffmann). I won't go into too much detail about it all, because it's better to see it unfold.

We get plenty of great views of the gorgeous and treacherous terrain as Cheryl sets out with her gigantic pack of literal and figurative baggage. There's the expected dangers like rattlesnakes, hunger and thirst, but the biggest threats are the multiple men she encounters along the way. Whether it's other hikers, hunters, or rest stop hosts, Cheryl is forced to grapple with trust.

Reese Witherspoon is surely on her way to an Oscar nomination. She embodies the complex character with great depth, bringing a lot of versatility as she plays her in different periods of her life. It always feels like she's actually in the midst of the hike. And in a slight subversion from a lot of alone in nature/survival/soul-searching tales, Wild isn't the typical redemption/wipe the slate clean story, and it isn't a tragedy either. It's about coming to terms with life the way you've lived it and where it's taken you, and being okay with it as you move forward.

Unfortunately, the narrative *ahem* trails off with a couple of sequences, and the ending is a tad abrupt as it thrives on minute, internal epiphanies that are less cinematic and more book-like. The messages are poetic and agreeable, but as a full film experience, it risks being forgettable. Still, Wild is a commendable effort.


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