Friday, December 5, 2008

INTO THE WILD (Sean Penn, 2007, USA) Sean Penn, one of the great actors of our generation, finally proves he is a competent filmmaker as he delivers a sublime and heartfelt masterpiece. This story is a tragedy and Penn is careful not to romanticize the strange travelogue of Christopher McCandless. The film is a companion piece to the book and not a literal adaptation; where Krakauer peers into the abyss Penn shows us the majestic potential of love. He chooses to tell us the story visually in bits and pieces, reminiscent of Chris’s fractured and wayward spirit. The cinematography is spectacular (must see in High-Definition!) as we kayak through the Grand Canyon, experience a dazzling thunderstorm in the Arizona desert, and hike through the Alaskan wilderness like a ghost accompanying our lonely protagonist. The film is layered with Carine McCandless’ letters and thoughts (read superbly by Jena Malone) as she sadly tries to understand the events leading to her brother’s gruesome demise. Like any loved one, there is self-blame and guilt but it should be understood that only one person is truly accountable, and that’s Christopher himself. I don’t believe for a moment that he had a death wish; he was running from the world and searching for his own identity…and he believed the only way to discover himself was through temporary isolation and relying on one’s own instinct. He touched many people on his journey and left them like a cool summer breeze; fondly remembered but impossible to hold. The glaring fault of this film is in Vince Vaughn’s acting; he is terribly unconvincing and overacts an important keystone character that Penn minimizes…probably because the scenes disrupt the rest of the film! But Hal Holbrook’s performance is heartbreaking and honest. And so is this film. (B)

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