Wildlife movie poster
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Wildlife
Wildlife movie poster

Wildlife Movie Review

I picture actor Paul Dano sitting under a tree in a golden field, reading a book by Richard Ford and proclaims, “Wildlife shalst be thy first film to be directed by thou.” Why he chose Wildlife, a nondescript and nuanced relationship drama starring Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, and Jake Gyllenhaal, I don’t know, but the movie is a surprisingly effective little film.

It won’t garner much attention, but maybe that’s the point.

Without having done any research, it seems that actors-turned-directors tend to flock to artsy dramas that few people will see—perhaps because these kinds of movies can be done on the cheap, allow for one to play behind the camera, and the risk of flameout is low.

Wildlife, which has Gyllenhaal playing a man in 1960 who decides to temporary leave his wife and 14-year-old son for a low paying and high-risk job fighting fires, focuses on Jeannette (Mulligan), who starts to see other men in plain view of her confused son Joe (Oxenbould).

Though I previously referenced “artsy dramas” and playing behind the camera, Dano has a clear vision that he maintains throughout Wildlife. The film is consistently understated in its approach, the story typically observed through the innocent and somewhat annoyingly naïve eyes of Joe. Dano brings to the film a colorful yet muted aesthetic, if that makes any sense, giving Wildlife a serene, even poetic atmosphere that feels intentionally distant, not unlike the characters’ emotional states.

The performances are solid around the board, with Mulligan managing to elevate a character who in most hands would just be cold and utterly unlikable (she is still cold and unlikable, but perhaps not utterly so). Gyllenhaal doesn’t get as much screen time as you’d expect, but delivers a few powerful scenes. Oxenbould is good, though his wide-eyed character is extremely frustrating at times, to no fault of his own.

Wildlife is a little too subtle to stand above hundreds of other films of a similar nature, but it’s a fine directorial debut for Dano and an interesting drama for those who enjoy smaller stories every once in a while.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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