Into The Wild

 
Directed by: Sean Penn
Written by:Sean Penn
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook
Released: November 29, 2007
Grade: C+

I’ve been waiting to see Into The Wild for a while.  The trailer looked great and the combination of rising star Emile Hirsch (The Emperor’s Club) with director Sean Penn (The Pledge) was an attractive proposition.  Early reviews from the Toronto Film Festival were positive and many believed it had a legitimate shot at earning some Oscar nominations.

Into The Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless.  After graduating from an Atlanta college in 1990, Chris decided to go on an “adventure”.  He gave the balance of his bank account to charity and set off on a trek across the United States and Canada.  His goal was to make it to Alaska.  Why did he do this?  I’m not entirely sure but I think he wanted to escape his problems at home and live his life at his fullest.

I think now is the right time to break the bad news – I passionately disliked this film.  Within 15 minutes it was “rubbing me up the wrong way”.  My first reason is that I did not like or understand the Chris McCandless character.  Quite frankly, I think he was an idiot.  My second, and most important reason, is that the film wanted me to like him.  This has been debated on various internet forums and some people will disagree with this statement.  I am giving my honest opinion however and it cannot be changed.  I refuse to feel sympathy for a smart-ass who thinks he has the answers to everything.

When he set out on his journey, Chris got rid of all his identification and changed his name to Alexander Supertramp.  He didn’t tell anyone what he was doing or where he was going.  His parents (played by Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt) and his sister (played by Jena Malone) didn’t know what had happened to him.  Not once did he contact them during his trip.  Police were called in but they had no luck locating him.  Now Chris may not have liked his parents but that’s a pretty cruel thing to do them, is it not?

Over the next two years en route to Alaska, Chris met an assortment of people.  These tales (some more interesting than others) make up much of the film’s narrative.  They didn’t improve my liking for Chris McCandless.  He rambles on with a bunch of philosophical garbage and these new found friends lap it up like he’s a saint.  We’re talking about a kid with next-to-no real life experience.  Can I ask one question – why does he give away all his money at the start of the film and then get a low paying job at a global food giant (Burger King) to pay for supplies?  Now that’s experiencing “nature”!

The only decent part in the film come at the very end when Chris stays at the home of an elderly gentleman named Ron (Holbrook).  Veteran actor Hal Holbrook is being touted as an Oscar contender for his brief but beautiful performance.  The scene where he says goodbye to Chris (before he heads off on the final part of his journey) feels true and honest.       

Sean Penn’s direction didn’t win me over either.  I think this is the worst film he’s done.  He’s split the story into meaningless “chapters” and uses the same techniques over and over again.  What’s the point of including the journal extracts from Chris’s diary and splashing them all over the screen?

Most moviegoers have liked Into The Wild but I’m sticking to my position and supporting the minority.