Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Into the Wild

I had to spend a little time thinking about this movie after I saw it. I was underwhelmed when I watched it, but after mulling it over for a bit, I grew to like it more and more. It was a tad long, coming in at almost 2 and a half hours, and there were some techniques used that I didn't really care for, but overall, it was very successful.

This is the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) who after graduating college, gave up all of his possessions, and took off traveling West on a journey that eventually took him to Alaska. The movie flips back and forth through time between him in Alaska, and his adventure getting there. It also flips back and forth between the characters McCandless meets along the way, and the family he left behind.

This is clearly Sean Penn's pet project that he was wanted to make for a long time. I would wager that he wanted to play McCandless himself, but it took ten years to get the project signed off on. By that time Penn was far too old to play the character. That's okay, because Hirsch plays the role amazingly well in what is essentially a one-man-show. Like Christian Bale, he fully immerses himself in his roles. Hirsch did all of his own stunts, and lost over 40 pounds for the part. This left Penn free to focus entirely on directing, which he did very well. Everything was shot on location, including three separate trips to Alaska for three different seasons.

McCandless met some of the most interesting people along the way. Whether it was Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn) the farmer in North Dakota he worked for, Rainey and Jan (Brian Dierker, and Catherine Keener), the aging hippies, or Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook) the elderly man who wanted to take him in as his own son. He touched all of these people, and learned from them in turn. Still nothing could stop him from his Alaskan adventure. This led to an interesting theme that wasn't directly spoken of in the movie. In spite of all the people that cared for him, and everyone who he affected, he was still selfish in his desire to go off alone into the wild. This is a difficult path to tread when you're making a movie commemorating someone. Do focus on their flaws as well? To his credit, Penn managed to paint McCandless as a hero, while not glossing over any of his flaws.

The only part I didn't really care for was the voice-over narration by his sister, Carine (Jenna Malone). It's not as if there was anything really wrong with how it was done, I'm just not a big fan of voice-overs when not needed. It always strikes me as a bit of a lazy way to progress the plot, without actually showing anything. It's similar to when characters reveal plot points awkwardly in conversation- it draws attention to it being a movie.

This is something I normally talk about, but I have to in this instance. The soundtrack is amazing. I really appreciate when movies like this have a sort of continuity in the music. Nearly the entire soundtrack is contributed by Eddie Vedder. In a break from his grunge roots, he provides a number of folk songs that perfectly compliment the movie. It felt as if he was channeling Bruce Springsteen.

Occasionally while I'm writing a review, my opinion of the movie changes. This is one of those cases. Every paragraph seemed to make me like the movie even more. I stand by my assessment that it was too long, but I still strongly recommend this movie anyway.


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