The Oscar nominations are out, and one film that is noticeably missing is Into the Wild, the acclaimed drama from director Sean Penn. Into the Wild is an incredibly interesting and different character study of one young man's slow self-exile from society, though given the great competition the film had in 2007, it's no real surprise that the movie got snubbed. Still, Into the Wild is one of the better movies of the year.
Emile Hirsch stars as Christopher McCandless, a young man who graduates from college and then abandons his family to go live in the wild. He burns his money, destroys his car and becomes a wanderer, making his way from one place to the next, whether it be a campsite in the desert or a nomadic camp full of hippies. He meets several interesting people along the way, most notably an old leather maker named Ron (Hank Holbrook), but no matter what he is determined to fulfill his quest by traveling to Alaska and separate himself entirely from society.
Does anyone realize the Hirsch could be one of Hollywood's next great actors? The guy hasn't been in much, but the films he has been he has elevated them entirely. He was great in The Girl Next Door, a movie that could have been a bland teen comedy. Alpha Dog? He was surprisingly good. And here, in Into the Wild, he turns in an award-winning performance (albeit one that has not been recognized for any major awards, other than the Critic's Choice Awards). The role is unique, and Hirsch delivers a unique performance. The power of this actor, especially in the last half hour of the film, is incredible and touching.
As for the movie itself, Penn has done a great job with what is presumably a very small budget. The entire cast is great, from Jena Malone (another actor skirting under the radar) to Catherine Keener. The movie also looks great, and Penn, who hasn't directed anything since 2001's The Pledge, has placed himself on a new level. No, he's not quite as good as Clint Eastwood's huge leap forward with Million Dollar Baby, but it's still a massive improvement over previous efforts.
My only complaint about Into the Wild is that it begins to feel a bit long about two-thirds through the story. Trimming the movie down by about 15 minutes could have really helped make the story flow better.
Into the Wild is a great entry from Sean Penn. It isn't perfect, but shows the world that he is a director worth watching, and that Emile Hirsch is a rising star on the verge of a major breakthrough.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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