This review was originally posted over at Head In a Vice for The IMDb Top 250 Project. Since the Project has been recently cancelled and Into the Wild is one of my all-time favorite movies, I decided to re-post the review here. If you have yet to visit Tyson’s site, it’s a great blog dedicated to all things horror (and Robert De Niro), so I highly recommend that you check it out!
Few movies are so vast in scope and setting yet simultaneously very personal in story and character. Into the Wild is probably the most philosophical road movie you’ll ever see and it just might also be the most beautiful one too. The film tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a bright 23-year-old college graduate. His parents expect him to attend Harvard law school until Christopher disappears without a word. Donating his college fund of $24,000 to charity, burning all the cash in his possession, and abandoning his car, he begins a journey to the Alaskan wilderness. Once in the wild, he plans on living off the land in solitude for a few months before returning to civilization.
This is a difficult movie to write about, maybe because the story and characters are so thoroughly presented that there is little insight I feel that I can give that is not already obvious. The ideas the movie depicts, and the characters that adhere to those ideas, are vivid and detailed. As it should be, Christopher is the best example of the depth that the cast and screenwriters bring to the movie’s characters. Emile Hirsch plays the main character, in a marvelous performance that always appears sincere and natural. Kenneth Turan, in his review for the Los Angeles Times, said it best when he wrote, “Hirsch throws himself into the part without reservation, projecting an appealing openness and life force that brings a special poignancy.”
Even more miraculous is that the entire supporting cast matches Hirsch’s spot-on leading performance. William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, and Hal Holbrook are all particularly good. Holbrook was even nominated for an Academy Award. These performances are incredibly life-like, they transcend acting. After seeing Into the Wild three times, I had never noticed how amazing they were. With another viewing under my belt, it is apparent that these actors are determined to embody their characters. They succeed and their work here is the key ingredient in a truly wonderful cinematic concoction.
The remainder of the recipe reads like this: Add brilliant, Oscar-nominated editing, which excites the audience at moments and soothes them at others. Throw in a soulful soundtrack composed and performed by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. Then mix in the beautiful scenic view of nature captured by the camera and the screenplay by director Sean Penn, which makes use of voice over in a way that enhances the story. We’re left with a bittersweet antidote for the blues of life; a potion that warms us with the possibilities of the future but remains honest by admitting that sadness is not absent.