Into The Wild * * * *

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Director: Sean Penn.
Screenplay: Sean Penn.
Starring: Emile Hirsch, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Vince Vaughn, Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Jena Malone, Kristen Stewart, Zack Galifianakis, Brian Deirker, R.D. Call.

Sean Penn has not always delivered the most cheerful of films when behind the camera. There always seems to be a tortured soul as his protaganist (Viggo Mortensen in “The Indian Runner” and Jack Nicholson in both “The Crossing Guard” and “The Pledge”), so it’s a surprise that with “Into the Wild” he mostly keeps things upbeat and positive.

Based on the real life story of straight-A college graduate Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), who in 1992 destroyed his ID, changed his name to ‘Alexander Supertramp’, donated his savings to charity, spurned his parents – and America’s capitalist society- and, with no warning to anyone, dropped off the radar in search of a quieter, more personal fulfillment in the Alaskan wilderness. Along the road he met a variety of people who became something like extended family to him.

Sean Penn employs a completely different approach with this sweepingly beautiful road-movie/new-age affirmation. There are long methodical shots of gorgeous landscapes and a meditative pace throughout, showing that he’s in no hurry to tell this man’s story. You can see his admiration for McCandless as he paints a very nuanced and positive portrait of him and puts his faith in Emile Hirsch in carrying it off. Hirsch in return, delivers a wonderful, heartfelt piece of acting and it’s apparent that he has also invested himself in this film. Added to which are some great cameo appearances peppered throughout, with Vince Vaughn as a particular highlight, stepping out of his comedy comfort-zone. It’s a film that’s hard not to like, with it’s anti-capitalist, free-spirited message and a reminder to maintain a conciousness in our modern times of corporate greed and disillusionment.

For some, it may just come across as another Hippie-on-a-trippy but McCandless was a human-being that had an awareness and a bravery to live by his beliefs and Penn ambitiously depicts that, with poetic care and respect.

Mark Walker

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