Movie Review
Into the Wild
Into the Wild poster
By Craig Younkin     Published October 29, 2007
US Release: September 21, 2007

Directed by: Sean Penn
Starring: William Hurt , Emile Hirsch , Marcia Gay Harden , Vince Vaughn

R language and some nudity
Running Time: 140 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $18,352,454
I'm recommending Into the Wild because of the scenery and because Hirsch so powerfully embodies the spirit of this character.
"Into the Wild," following up on Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man", proves that guys who drop everything to go play in the wilderness are a dime a dozen. Emile Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless, a real-life kid who took the road less traveled by most spoon-fed upper classmen. Top student at Emory University in 1990, McCandless graduates and actually abandons all of his possessions, including a $24,000 savings account, to hitchhike his way across America. Why does he do this? Out of spite of course. He hates his parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) and wants to get away from all the material possessions that seem to have torn them apart so he feels a certain peace in nature. It is his goal to one day reach Alaska and live in the wilderness, but upon his travels McCandless meets a series of characters who help to shape his view of the world and encounters situations that test his survival instincts.

Director Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" is a beautiful looking movie and that's where it works best. The scenery is terrific, showing us the pure, grand majesty that America has to offer. The rushing rapids to the snowy mountain tops to the herds of horses, deer and other animals are breathtaking and Penn does a good thing by setting most of them against original songs created by Eddie Vedder. Penn also gets a star-making performance by Emile Hirsch, who after this and "Alpha Dog" earlier this year is definitely moving into the great young actor camp. He has a rugged, almost "Wolverine" like quality about him and he imbibes this character with a naive sense of passion, a idealist who thinks everything will be better once he manages to live within his own dream. Hirsch really does disappear into this role, even losing a significant amount of weight through the course of the film in order to do so. The performances by Vince Vaughn, as a farmer who hires McCandless, Harden, and Hurt are also very good, but stealing the show is Hal Holbrooke, who heartbreakingly plays a grandfatherly figure to Christopher later on in the film.

The psychological aspect is a little harder to define. Through voice-over narration, Chris talks about his fighting and lying parents and why he is doing a good thing by punishing them. Only the parents have only a few scenes on-screen and hardly seem bad enough to make a kid want to drop everything and turn into Tarzan. Because we don't understand how bad they are, Chris also remains a very distant character through most of the movie. He comes across as unreasonable and whiney, and despite Hirsch's best efforts, it's hard to stay engaged emotionally to this character for any long stretches of time.

I'm recommending "Into the Wild" because of the scenery and because Hirsch so powerfully embodies the spirit of this character, but the problem lies within the screenplay. Chris' background is never distinguished. We don't know how bad the parents are. We don't know if there is a deeper psychological problem with Chris. We don't understand why he prefers this life of loneliness over a life with family and friends. That Penn doesn't spend more time on these issues leads you to wonder more about him than to actually connect.
Craig's Grade: B
Craig's Overall Grading: 340 graded movies
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