Friday, November 02, 2007


Measure yourself at least once

By Edward Copeland
With Into the Wild, Sean Penn has made a quantum leap as a filmmaker. His previous efforts as a director, such as The Crossing Guard and The Pledge, left me pretty cold. In Jon Krakauer's book about the true story of a lost young man, Penn the filmmaker truly seems to have found himself.

Into the Wild also offers a chance to see the actor Emile Hirsch in a new light. My first exposure (that I can remember) to Hirsch was in Alpha Dog earlier this year, and he left me less than impressed. However, his work here, as Chris McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp, is quite impressive.

McCandless is a recent college graduate in 1990 with an eye on Harvard Law but buried resentment toward his stiff, WASP parents (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden) inspires him to follow his own path: Living off the land in Alaska. As he tells one person he encounters on his journey, for Americans seeking new things, the road has always led West.

Along the way, Hirsch gets ample help from a fine ensemble of actors including Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Brian Dierker and Hal Holbrook who, with his role here and his guest appearance in season 6 of The Sopranos, may have become the go-to actor for representing aged wisdom.

Penn also wrote the screenplay and since I've never read Krakauer's book, I can't be certain if the words attributed to McCandless or to his sister Carine (Jena Malone) were truly theirs. Sometimes the lines seem a bit too polished, but they mostly work.

Cinematographer Eric Gautier offers a lot of stunning imagery and most of Penn's directorial touches serve the film well, even when they occasionally step over the line into being too showy (as when the word PEOPLE literally leaps off the page of a book Chris is reading). Penn also makes great use of close-ups, particularly in a tense, early dinner scene among the McCandless family.

Eddie Vedder's original songs for the film work quite well, even if they almost become indistinguishable from one another.

On the whole, Into the Wild may be a little too long, but it's so well made, well acted and well stocked with interesting ideas, that the journey is more than worth it.

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I agree with everything you said, but even as an admirer of Hal Holbrook I wasn't prepared for how moving he was. The contradictory themes of the film, the imperatives to be one's own person but also connected to others, are, in Penn's hands, double dynamite.
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