365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Into The Wild (2007)

The Sean Penn (The Crossing Guard, The Pledge) directed Into the Wild had all the promise of a movie that could have lived in the lives of high school students around the country for years to come. The novel with the same name penned by Jon Krakauer is part of the high school curriculum in many school systems around the country. The movie is rated R. I've seen it twice. Had a couple of scenes been toned down, the movie could very easily have garnered a PG-13 rating, thus allowing it to be viewed in English class after the reading the book. I don't know if Penn thought about this when making the movie and, if he did, if he even cared. It is, however, food for thought.

Into the Wild chronicles the journey of Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch - Lords of Dogtown, Spide Racer) who, after his college graduation, donates all of his money and an opportunity to attend law school at Harvard, in favor of trekking across the country to experience life in the Alaskan wilderness. We find Chris in his current situation at the start of the film...on his "magic bus" that he found abandoned in the Alaskan wilderness, miles and miles from any other human being. Through his journals, we learn of the many tales  he has experienced and the extraordinary people he met during his two year expedition as well as the events that have led him into the dire situati0n in which he finds himself.

The story is retold partly through what Chris, himself, wrote in his journals and through the voice of his younger sister Carine (Jenna Malone - The Messenger, Ruins). Carine paints a picture as well as, if not better than, Chris did. She talks of the heartache he has caused their parents. They become so distraught with concern over their missing son that it slowly destroying their lives. She talks of her own sadness by him not leaving without of a word. She even tries to convince herself that, despite not hearing from him, that he is okay.

They key to this movie are the environment, the relationships of the characters, and the soundtrack. I can't recall more than a couple of minutes shot in anything, but the outdoors (with the exclusion of the magic bus). We see the landscapes of heartland of America firsthand.  We meet characters who impact Chris. But it's the impact Chris leaves on those that he meets is where the real impressions are.  The characters and the environment that they live in illustrate the story of hope, happiness, and survival. A softer and more gentle Eddie Vedder was asked by Penn to write the music for the movie. His voice carries the viewer from tale to tale and his lyrics help us to understand Chris's passion for finding a deeper meaning in life.

I am not an English nor a Psychology major, but the study of Chris McCandless seems like it would be an interesting topic for those studying both subjects. Is Chris selfless or selfish. Does leaving all of his worldly possessions behind and relying on the kindness of others while providing the same amount of kindness in return constitute pure altruism? Or does leaving his family without a word and never attempting to contact them to even let them know that he is doing okay warrant the label of an egocentric? Like the rest of us, Chris neither all good nor all bad, but rather something in between. Where he falls on that scale, however, is in the eye of the beholder. What cannot be questioned, however, is his kindness, his passion, or his bravery. Some might say you can't question his ill-preparedness or his lack of experience to live off of the isolated land either, but that is neither here nor there. Once he set his goal, he was not going to be stopped, no matter how hard the circumstances or how long it took him.

The slew of actors who had minor roles in this movie seemed endless. From Chris's heartbroken mother (Marcia Gay Harden - Mystic River, Pollock) to his overbearing and abusive father (William Hurt - The Doctor, Kiss of the Spider Woman) to affable, but careless low-truck driver Wayne (Vince Vaughn - Old School, Swingers), the performances were all spot on. There were two characters, however, who stood out amongst the others in my opinion.

The most notable is Hollbrook, whose performance as Ron, is breathtakingly beautiful. Hollbrook, at the age of 82 earned his first Academy Award nomination. His movie career has spanned over 40 years, but this is the first time many have seen his work. When I saw this movie in the theater, I thought his performance was good, but not Oscar worthy. Looking back, I believe I felt this way because he didn't even appear on the screen until the movie was three-quarters the way through. And even then, he was just in a few short scenes. Upon my second viewing, I see better what the Academy saw, which is that of a grieving, old man, who, while still a functioning member of society, is bitterly alone and facing the end of his life with plenty to share, but no one to share with. The scene in which Chris and Ron part is beyond words if you are able to allow yourself to connect with Ron during the short time he is on screen. To be able to capture both his love for life as well as the sadness he experiences on a daily level can be done only by such a seasoned and accomplished actor as Hollbrook. Hollbrook, rightfully so, was beat out by Javier Bardeem in the Best Supporting Actor Award category for his performance in 2007's Best Picture, No Country For Old Men. However, had that movie been released in, say 2006 or 2008, one might wonder if Hollbrook's short screen presence could have been award deserving.

Also deserving of individual recognition was Kristen Stewart (Twilight Series), a sixteen year old aspiring guitarist named Tracy who has grown up in Slab City (a RV park in the California desert where its free facilities have long been known to draw in hippies, free-spirits, and free-loaders. While she has performed in front of large crowds, she has never performed outside of the park. She quickly becomes transfixed with Chris upon his arrival, offering herself to him within days of meeting him. Chris restrains himself and rather than taking something away from her, he gives her something that he hopes that they will bother remember for the rest of their lives. He performs a duet with her in Slab City. Similarly to Hollbrook's character, Stewart's Tracy is awed by Chris and seems to experience great heartache upon his departure, despite only knowing the young man for a short period of time.

Plot 9/10
Character Development 8.5/10
Character Chemistry 9.5/10
Acting 9/10
Screenplay 8.5/10
Directing 7.5/10
Cinematography 10/10 (beautiful sweeping shots of America's landscape. The visuals of Alaska are particularly stunning)
Sound 10/10 (can't really go wrong with a soundtrack written and performed by Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the greatest band ever)
Hook and Reel 8.5/10 (the movie does a good job with
Universal Relevance 9.5/10

This score is a higher reflection than what I originally thought I would have given the film. While this is a very good movie, it had the potential to be a masterpiece. I'm not exactly sure why it didn't succeed on that level. It had all of the elements (a captivating true story, quality acting, established director, fantastic writing, excellent score, etc.). It just lacked that certain "it" factor that all of the great ones have. If I have I was forced to pick the one reason why this movie was not Oscar worthy I would have to put the fault on Penn. I don't know if he could have done this movie any better, but I think a different director might have been able to take the movie from a B+/A- to an A.

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