I hate it when great stories are marred by issues that make me never want to see them again. For anyone that has not read the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer I won’t go too deep into specifics about how the feature film adaptation sums itself up, but doing so leaves me relatively handicapped on telling you why this film isn’t graded any higher.
Into the Wild is a turning point for actor Emile Hirsch whom you can tell threw himself into this role with every ounce of his being. It also shows that Sean Penn can direct and can even write as he adapted the screenplay from Krakauer’s book. He just has a slight problem letting go of some scenes as this flick runs 2 hours and 20 minutes and really should have hovered closer to the 2 hour mark. Length aside, it only gives you more and more reason to like and care for Christopher McCandless (Hirsch).
Based on a true story Into the Wild follows 22-year-old McCandless from the time he graduates Emory University in 1992, to his great journey around the United States with an ultimate goal of reaching Alaska, which serves as something of a destiny in his case.
He abandons his family, virtually all his personal possessions and even loses his car in a flash flood in the early going. Throughout his travels he meets a variety of individuals, each of which you are sure to love and remember. The most memorable has to be Catherine Keener’s performance of aging hippie Jan Burres. Keener has always been an actress to watch, but after her turn in The 40 Year Old Virgin and now this complete 180 she has really shown her range and how she can command your attention. Just watching her face well up with tears tugs at yah.
The main performance here is Emile’s however. This is a kid that was seriously miscast in Alpha Dog as Johnny Truelove, but the slightly softer, yet rebellious, role of McCandless plays to his strengths as an actor, which is certainly not the role of being a bad ass. Rather Emile taps into the spoiled brat side of himself, but as the movie continues you begin to care for him and see that Christopher is searching for himself and his experiences with all these people he meets are shaping the individual he is going to become. You care for him even if he shows a seriously selfish side to himself in terms of how he deals with his family throughout the film.
Growing up as a privileged young child he abandons his parents and his sister (Jena Malone) completely. Granted, his home life wasn’t perfect, but if you see this film you will learn his relationship with his sister was something he really should have cherished and even that he turns his back on.
Writer/director Sean Penn’s ability to tell this story is remarkable considering its scope, size and dependency on emotional connection to each and every character you meet. In order for this film to be effective you have to be in touch with the emotional state of each person inside of it, be it confusion, love, wonder, loss, etc. Penn taps into each and every one of those things and has managed the perfect cast to make it a reality.
As I said earlier, it tends to run about 20 minutes long and the third act was a serious letdown for me after investing 120 minutes of my time, which is why this great film doesn’t get a higher grade. Penn seems to gravitate toward down and dour stories, perhaps he could look even deeper into his soul and find a happy place. Come on Sean, how about a light-hearted comedy? How about bringing Jeff Spicoli back at age 50 and giving us Fast Times at Ridgemont High 2? Just a thought, but cheer up man, life ain’t all bad.