Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage, R)

intothewild2.jpgSeldom do we find an understanding in either Penn’s shaping of the Christopher character or Hirsch’s rather languid performance. As he flounders in style and tone, Penn additionally can’t decide whether Christopher McCandless is a real person, a metaphor, or a pawn to some greater purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sean Penn has always made for a fascinating figure. He’s shamelessly anti-Hollywood, yet more often than not comes off as the poor man’s Brando. He supports fine causes and then, infamously, films himself doing so. Into the Wild, a film adaptation of the book by Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air), is a project Penn has been eyeing for years. Who knows where the film would have fallen on his filmography, but as it stands, it marks his fourth feature film as director. In his defense I wouldn’t throw him into the poor company of "But What I Really Wanna Do Is…" actor-turned-directors like Jack Nicholson (The Two Jakes) or Kevin Spacey (Beyond the Sea), but it also wouldn’t be fair to make any comparisons to Clint Eastwood, under whose direction Penn won his Oscar. Penn has a flair for visuals, which would be an essential trait in someone tackling the man-versus-nature themes of Into the Wild. Unfortunately, all-too-often, he doesn’t know what film he’s making, and it’s annoyingly clear when he shifts between the quiet and somber to the slow motion and hyper-edited.

More often than not, Penn seems perfectly satisfied with letting the narration, composed mostly of dialogue with the sister (Jena Malone) of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), fill the holes of purpose. Seldom do we find an understanding in either Penn’s shaping of the Christopher character or Hirsch’s rather languid performance. As he flounders in style and tone, Penn additionally can’t decide whether Christopher McCandless is a real person, a metaphor, or a pawn to some greater purpose.

Into the Wild is not without its merit. As a hippy gal who meets Christopher along the road, Catherine Keener is exceptionally good, and despite typecasting as an angsty teen, Malone makes for a fine narrator (she also narrates Container, the most recent film by Lukas Moodysson). Into the Wild is easily Penn’s most ambitious project to date, and there’s always some credit due where high ambition is concerned. Yet, at two-and-a-half hours, the experience of watching Into the Wild mirrors that of the journey taken in the film, with the sight of the end becomes the utmost goal. | Joe Bowman

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