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Home / Movie Review: Into the Wild Overcomes Some Bad Choices
More traditional telling would have been more effective, but Penn should be applauded for his efforts.

Movie Review: Into the Wild Overcomes Some Bad Choices

Written by Hombre Divertido

Sean Penn directs from a screenplay he wrote from the book by Jon Krakauer on the story of Christopher McCandless. A young man who, after graduating from college, drops out of society and makes his way to Alaska while meeting people and experiencing adventures along the way.  The story is engaging and thought provoking, and for the most part the movie does the story justice.

Penn seems to employ two types of directorial techniques when telling this story, one for the first part of the film, and another for the second. In the first half of this 140-minute endeavor the choices made by Penn at times create distractions. The choice to tell the story in different time frames takes a little getting used to, as does the need to make the film look more artistic than necessary. The side-by-side framing, close-ups, and awkward angles that plague the opening segments are like watching something a child would do with a new toy.  Perhaps in the second half of the film the audience simply gets used to the director's style, but it would appear that Penn makes more traditional choices that better suit the telling of this tale.

Emile Hirsch portrays McCandless with a youthful exuberance, and though he bares a resemblance to McCandless, he appears to be in over his head here as he fails to keep up with his stellar supporting cast that includes: Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, and Hal Holbrook. The performances of this fine ensemble leaves the audience wanting far more of them and less of Hirsch.

Where Penn does excel is in the cinematography. Beautiful parts of our country are explored here, and the locations shots are breathtaking. The narration by both Hirsch as McCandless and Jenna Malone as Christopher’s sister Carine are also extremely effective, especially in the case of Malone, who brings a subtle intensity to her voiceover that makes the emotional journey real to the viewer. Abandoning the voiceovers in favor of on-screen titles makes for a far less powerful ending than certainly could have been achieved with the continued narration, and leaves the audience wanting for Carine's words.

Recommendation: Aside from the brief nudity and sexual content, this is solid family entertainment, which is sure to become a classic. Yes, perhaps a more traditional telling would have been more effective, but Penn should be applauded for his efforts, even those that failed. The performance by the supporting cast alone makes this film worth seeing, and you will be left wanting to know more of their stories. The cinematography should be seen on the big screen, so catch it while it’s still there.

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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