Wildlife - 2018
Director(s): Paul Dano
Writer(s): Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (screenplay) / Richard Ford (book)
Cinematography by: Diego Garcia
Editor(s): Louise Ford and Matthew Hannam
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould and Bill Camp
Wildlife has been making rumblings since its debut in this year's Sundance Film Festival. Since then it has made its way through the festival circuit, and I've been looking forward to watching one of Hollywood's most unique actors working today, Paul Dano (There Will be Blood and Swiss Army Man), make his directorial debut. Especially excited since Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan were tapped to star in his first film. Walking out, while I have mixed feelings, I enjoyed my time. Let's talk about it.
The story takes place in 1960's Montana as a wildfire is tearing up the forest area. Jerry (Gyllenhaal) and Jeannette (Mulligan) Brinson recently moved there with their son Joe (Oxenbould). Once Jerry loses his job at the local golf club, he decides to go off to fight the fire leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves. The aspect of the story that I most connected to was Joe's realization that his parents are human beings. When I was in high school, my father lost his job, and I saw the effect that it caused on him and on our family. So, watching this depicted on screen it hit home, especially how simple things, such as family dinners, start to change as the relationship between the parents shift. The script also fills in the gaps of the past and fuels some of the character motivations, but I did find myself asking, a few too many times, "why are you doing that?" at certain character choices. This is something that detracted from my overall enjoyment. Character motivations and the end resolution, while shot beautifully, was a bit of a mystery for me.
As for the direction from Dano, he illustrated a particular look and feel for the world he created. I loved how certain scenes lingered a few seconds longer than what you would typically get from a movie, highlighting the minutiae of life and giving weight to the subtle performances from his leads. Something that I've learned through my experiment of "reviewing" movies is that films and directors can be "measured " or described by a pivotal scene, a scene that encapsulates the movie and vision of the director. Sadly, I honestly cannot, for the life of me, recall any stand-out scene from Dano's debut despite me enjoying to some extend the experience overall. The film blends into one big ball of "ok," and you will probably forget you watched it.
Quick note: I think there is a score. I do not remember it ever playing.
However, you will remember Carey Mulligan's career-defining performance. My god, this woman can act, and this is her crown jewel so far. Sad that it will be drowned in a year jammed packed with equally great performances in better films, but her portrayal of a woman struggling to be a wife and a mother was pitch perfect. We see her go from your prototypical 1950's wife that TVs and films like to portray, to a woman looking for her voice, flawed as it is, and identity as she faces the fact that she may have to fend for herself in this world after her husband goes off to fight wildfires. She is raw, unapologetic, tragic and beautiful all wrapped up in a sweet sundress. This is not the best Gyllenhaal we have gotten by a long shot, this is not even the best 2018 Gyllenhaal, but it is not horrible. He plays off Mulligan well, and towards the end, he is a very loving father. I feel the script let him down. I don't want to be harsh on Ed Oxenbould but he is by far the weakest link of the film, and it is supposed to be told through his perspective further hurting the overall experience. He is not horrible, he is simply there, and his performance is an eyesore at times given the fact that Mulligan is there setting the scene on fire.
Wildfire is a good family drama that explores the physique of a parent. How they balance multiple aspects of their lives, works, love, and personal worth, while somehow still raising a kid. Dano has the potential to be a great director, hopefully with a better script, but out of all the actors making their directorial debut, Hill is still my favorite. If you watch this movie, let it be for Carey Mulligan's performance, because it is worth it. Maybe wait for it to hit Netflix. Mulligan is why I love movies.
Wildlife is currently playing in theaters. Netflix watch.
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