Sean Penn's Into the Wild has an untamed spirit

Into the Wild

on September 21, 2007 by Kevin Courrier
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Based on the book by Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a middle-class American kid who drops out of society upon his college graduation in 1990 and hits the road to seek solace in the wild of Alaska. Inspired in equal parts by Jack London, Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy, McCandless meets an assortment of people along the trip who are all seeking different ways—both unconventional and not—to find happiness and satisfaction.

Director Sean Penn shows a more buoyant touch here than he has in the past, making a road movie with an inquisitive spirit that immediately separates it from the solemn heaviness he imposed on his previous work in The Crossing Guard and The Pledge . Penn takes his cue from Hirsch's fervid performance as a boy trying to discover the American pioneer spirit by delving deep into the harsh landscape of the country. While Penn finds a warm spot in Hirsch's expansive performance, he's also assembled a counterculture movie that doesn't condescend toward conventional values. He allows the rhythms of McCandless' story to dictate the wobbly pacing of the movie, which at times gets as poky as Penn's earlier films but is ultimately carried by the colorful performances gathered here.

Catherine Keener gives a lovely turn as one part of a hippie couple—“rubber tramps"—who cruise the open road by vehicle. Hal Holbrook has a poignant moment, too, as a widowed Army vet who takes to Christopher as the grandson he never had. Only William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden as Christopher's parents border on becoming stereotypes of middle-class ennui. Although Into the Wild carries with it a tragic undercurrent, Penn illuminates the graceful aspects of Christopher's ultimate search for self to overall illuminating effect.

For complete coverage of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, search boxoffice.com using keyword "TIFF 2007."
Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Catherine Keener,
Hal Holbrook, Jena Malone, Kristen Stewart and Vince Vaughn
Director/Screenwriter: Sean Penn
Producers: Sean Penn, Art Linson and Bill Pohlad
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for language and some nudity
Running time: 148 min.
Release date: September 21, 2007 ltd.
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