INTO THE WILD (U.S. / 2007)
Sean Penn came into his own as a filmmaker with his remarkable third feature, The Pledge, a Palme d'Or nominee at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. That's not to suggest however that his first two efforts, especially the debut The Indian Runner (1991), weren't accomplished films, but in The Pledge the level of congruency he was able to achieve between content and form was exceptional. One could nearly say the same about Penn's latest, Into the Wild, which is his most ambitious film to date. Adapted from Jon Krakauer's 1996 non-fiction book of the same name, the film concerns the tragic yet uplifting story of Christopher McCandless, who at the age of 22 left behind the material comforts of his middle-class existence to seek the truth within and around him.
McCandless is well embodied by Emile Hirsch, whom Penn courted after admiring him in the undervalued Lords of Dogtown (2005). His (highly physical) performance is initially exuberant and ultimately dedicated (he lost over forty pounds over the course of eight-month shooting schedule), though that's not quite enough to render a conflicted young man like, say, a young Sean Penn would have. Accompanied by the broodingly melancholic compositions of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, a good friend of Penn's since 1995 when he wrote music for Dead Man Walking, McCandless vagabonds to places like Carthage, South Dakota and Slab City, California before venturing into the Alaskan wilderness, which for him symbolized the very essence of freedom and purity. (The all-American landscape is vividly and poetically captured by the director and his DP Eric Gautier, winner of Cannes' Technical Grand Prize in 2004 for Clean and The Motorcycle Diaries.)
Those who have followed Penn's personal and professional career thus far are aware of his predilection for the kind who don't conform to society's norms and prefer to exist on the margins. We are briefly introduced to numerous such characters during this well-edited effort, who in their own ways guide our protagonist on his journey of the lifetime. The affectionate glow Penn affords them and their lifestyles is undeniably genuine. Moreover, the same is true for his nearly saintly regard for McCandless, even if it eventually undercuts what could've been a more balanced and comprehensive portrait. A flaw, but an admirable one for this soulful and piercingly beautiful labor of love.
*The film will be available on DVD on March 4.
[Edit]DVD info/Yuku errors