Into The Wild (2007)

Into The Wild film reviewI deliberately avoided reading any reviews of director Sean Penn’s film before seeing it, so that I could make up my own mind; a decision which left me unaware that it was based on a true story.

A pity that, because I spent two hours twenty minutes (count 'em – 140 minutes running time!) wondering if this story was sailing on the right side of sentimental. I think the movie just managed it, but not without asking us to accept that the central character is universally liked, admired and indeed loved by eveyone he encounters.

His decision to drop out is puzzling, and at first the audience has to assume he’s just a rebel with a more healthy perspective on life than those of us who choose the rat-race. I think it would have been better to leave it that way, because the voiceover commentary by his sister overlays a more banal reason for his lifestyle choice. At first, we see the things he sees – breathtaking vistas, the beauty of nature – and we are forced to question our own materialistic lives. This is fresh and exciting. We think “Maybe he’s right? Freedom, solitude, open nature and the simple things are more meaningful and rewarding than money and material possessions.” But then his sister makes sense of what he is doing within a conventional paradigm by explaining that he’s just mixed up – the product of an unhappy marriage.

The movie has an intimate feel broken only once or twice by some quirky hand-held camera work deliberately thrown in by Sean Penn – almost as if he wants to break the cinematic illusion for some reason. It’s otherwise beautifully shot, and the characters are warm and engaging, with fine performances all round and a great soundtrack.

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