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INTO THE WILD

SYNOPSIS:
Freshly graduated from college with a promising future ahead, 22 year-old Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) walks out of his middle class life and into the wild in search of adventure - and escape from the painful dysfunction of his parents (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden). McCandless travels from the wheat fields of South Dakota and takes a renegade trip down the Colorado River to the non-conformists' refuge of Slab City, California, and beyond. Along the way, he encounters colorful characters at the edge of American society who shape his understanding of life and whose lives he, in turn, changes. Like lifelong hippy couple Jan (Catherine Keeler) and Rainey (Brian Dierker), and Ron (Hal Holbrook) who teaches him that happiness is only valuable if shared. In the end, he tests himself by heading alone into the wilds of the great North of Alaska, where everything he has seen and learned and felt come to a head in ways he could never expect.

Review by Louise Keller:
I don't need money; give me truth, says Emile Hirsch's Christopher McCandless, as he sets out on his journey of self discovery. The role of the rebellious adventurer intent on doing things his own way is the kind of role Sean Penn might have taken on himself twenty five years ago, but Penn makes his mark this time as screenwriter and director. It's an extraordinary story, made all the more affecting due to it being based on a true story, as described in Jon Krakauer's book. A road movie, buddy movie, coming of age story and portrait of a young man who finds the secret of happiness, Into The Wild is liberating, thought provoking and engaging.

From a handful of standard Hollywood roles such as The Girl Next Door, Hirsch embraces this role of a lifetime and displays maturity, charisma and a boyish charm as he goes from spoilt college kid to emaciated naturalist. Armed with the self-anointed name of Alex Supertramp and a grandiose plan to disappear from life's radar and that of the expectations of his bickering, materialistic parents (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden), Chris trades his financially comfortable life for one that offers him freedom. He simply runs away. 'If you want something in life, reach out and grab it,' he tells Kristen Stewart's free-spirited Tracy, one of the people with whom he connects on his journey. He befriends Vince Vaughn's wheat farmer in South Dakota and hitching on the freeway, he meets long-haired hippies Rainey (Brian Dierker) and Jan (Catherine Keener), with whom he forms a bond. To Jan, Chris is the son she has lost, as he later becomes to Hal Holbrook's elderly widower Ron Franz, which brings some of the film's most moving moments. But life on the road is filled with challenges, some of them full blown 'tragedies', according to the diary notes that Chris makes.

Penn captures Chris' newly discovered joie de vivre as he sneaks on freight trains, rides the rapids and enjoys his solitude in his 'magic bus', his final destination in the wilds of Alaska, where nature never relents. The voice-over reflections by both Chris and his sister Carine (Jena Malone) add great poignancy, while Eddie Vedder's songs inject melancholy and reflection. Beautiful cinematography enhances the stunning locations in this moving and heart-rending tale about a young man who ventures into the wild to find his ultimate freedom.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Based on the true story of Christopher McCandless and his virtual disappearance from society in the early 1990s, Sean Penn's adaptation of the book has the benefits of a good story that touches us all on many levels. Pity then that Sean Penn has done such a bad job of orchestrating it that in the telling, the emotional punch is always pulled by a time shift or a mood shift.

But Penn, with a great characterisation by Emile Hirsch, does manage to show us a human being full of contradictions, complexes, wisdom and foolishness. A poetic sort of chap, McCandless burns with the pain of his parents long term dishonesty about their past. His sister Carine (Jena Malone terrific in a small but pivotal role) is the only human being to whom he can relate and confide. But he doesn't even tell her where he's going when he decides to step off his world, right after graduation.

We follow him - rather episodically, thanks to the film's structure - as he explores the wild frontiers of America and meets those living on both sides of the social border. Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker feature as a wonderfully complex hippy couple who give him a ride and meet up with him later. Hal Holbrook is terrific as the old widow Ron, who learns from Chris and also teaches him the importance of people.

These scenes are great, and Penn could have given his film real zest if he had focused on the wilderness and the strangers. Too much material feels like padding and stretches the story beyond its natural screen form.

In the end, we are saddened by the young man's tragic journey, which is motivated by a range of emotions with which we can readily identify. That understanding gives the film weight, and his ultimate fate is an irony that would have been even more powerful had his story been told in a simple, linear narrative fashion.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

INTO THE WILD (M)
(US, 2007)

CAST: Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Hal Holbrook, Kristen Stewart, Zach Galifianakis

PRODUCER: Sean Penn, Art Linson, William Pohland

DIRECTOR: Sean Penn

SCRIPT: Sean Penn (book by Jon Krakauer)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Gautier

EDITOR: Jay Cassidy

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Derek R. Hill

RUNNING TIME: 148 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 29, 2007







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