Monday, 19 January 2015

Wild (15)

I don't know what is is about films with a single lead character, but I have a real soft spot for them.

It probably started with 127 Hours (James Franco has never been as good since), then we had Gravity (Sandra Bullock is totes amazeballs), All Is Lost (the sublime Robert Redford) and then Locke (Tom Hardy, all alone and all brilliant) - all brilliant in their own way.

Now, we have Wild. Starring Reese Witherspoon.

And I won't deny, that was almost enough to put me off.

It's not that Ms Witherspoon isn't a good actress, she is, but nothing I've seen her in suggested she was capable of holding a film together on her own.

Especially a film that requires her to be toddling about in the wilderness on a "personal journey".

Be honest. This isn't grabbing you either, is it?

And then there's the start.

Utilising the same trope as American Sniper, we are dropped in part-way through the journey, and then we trek back to the start and join her life at the beginning.

But where as Sniper dropped the ball this early on, after watching Witherspoon scream expletives as her only pair of hiking boots disappear down the side of a sheer cliff you want to know what the hell she's doing there.

Fortunately director Jean-Marc Vallee knows how to keep us interested, so as we join Witherspoon on her journey, through flashback we find out how she ends up on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I'll grant you, it sounds like an Oscar-type film (and Reese is deservedly up for a Best Actress gong), personal journey, wilderness, an odd-looking fox, tents, caterpillars invading sleeping bags - it's all been done before.

But what makes Wild work so well is the heart and warmth that flows through each frame.

The tonal shifts between 'now' (relatively speaking, as the real Cheryl Strayed did this in 1995), and the emotionally darker events that led her here are clear and marked, yet handled well so as to help you engage with our heroine.

And the filming of the actual hike is simply beautiful.

From the squirm-inducing opening as she rips a toe nail off, to the deserts, snow-covered plains, forests and rivers that are crossed, you feel like you're there.

And it's not without it's dramatic tensions, either.

On at least two occasions, Witherspoon finds herself in potential peril - and where it would have been easy to gloss over this, Vallee allows fear to infuse proceedings.

And it's all handled brilliantly by Witherspoon.

She handles the froth and the much darker periods with equal aplomb, delivering a range hitherto unseen.

And there is froth. Let's make no bones about this, it's aiming for the heartstrings from the off - but Wild does so in such a way you just don't mind.

It's not perfect, far from it. It's not edgy, there are editing issues, the supporting cast are almost inconsequential and the CGI fox is nothing short of laughable.

But none of that detracts from the fact this is a film with its heart in the right place.

You care about the characters, you feel for what she has gone though (despite the fact she's not always been the best of people).

OK, yes, the ending is as about as saccharine as it's possible to be without inducing nausea - but by then you've enjoyed the ride so you can forgive anything because you're full of the warm and fuzzies.

Forgive anything but the fox. That can still sod off.

1 comment:

  1. Good review Kahn. We haven't quite seen Witherspoon like this before and for that, the movie is a whole lot more compelling of a watch.