Wildlife

The Guardian - G2 - - Reviews Film - PB

★★★★☆

Dir

Paul Dano Jake Gyl­len­haal, Carey Mul­li­gan, Ed Ox­en­bould

Star­ring Length

105 mins

Cert

12A This hand­somely made, metic­u­lously acted pe­riod pic­ture is an im­pres­sive di­rec­to­rial de­but for Paul Dano, who cre­ates some soberly beau­ti­ful tableaux of post­war Amer­i­can life. With his part­ner, the screen­writer and ac­tor Zoe Kazan, Dano has adapted the novel by Richard Ford about Joe, a teenage boy who has moved to a small town in 1950s Mon­tana with his par­ents. They are on the gen­teel, mid­dle-class poverty line, liv­ing from pay cheque to pay cheque, and then to lack of pay cheque. When Joe’s rest­lessly an­gry and un­em­ployed dad leaves to take a low-pay­ing job fight­ing wild­fires up in the hills, it am­bigu­ously sig­nals the end of his mar­riage, and Joe is the the wit­ness to his mother Jeanette’s pri­vate de­pres­sion and her courage in fac­ing up to her new life choices.

Jake Gyl­len­haal plays Jerry Brin­son, the dad, a man who looks per­ma­nently gaunt and ex­hausted, deeply dis­mayed by his fail­ure to mas­ter the Amer­i­can dream. Ed Ox­en­bould plays Joe. The role re­quires what might be con­sid­ered a series of mute re­ac­tion shots, his cheru­bic face of­ten set in a rue­fully sup­pressed gri­mace as he im­pas­sively sizes up his father’s hu­mil­i­a­tion and de­pres­sion and his mother’s dis­ap­point­ment with life.

Jeanette is played with ter­rific gusto by Carey Mul­li­gan. It is one of the best roles and best per­for­mances of her ca­reer – giv­ing her a chance to dis­play ma­tu­rity, wit, savvy and the emo­tional bat­tle scars of life, and tak­ing her away from the rather girl­ish image in which she has of­ten been con­fined. She is a fighter, a smiler, never-say-die-er, but only so long as her hus­band is pre­pared to do his part.

This is a very watch­able movie, beau­ti­fully and even lux­u­ri­ously ap­pointed in its aus­tere evo­ca­tion of small­town Amer­ica – though maybe a lit­tle self-con­scious in its emo­tional wound­ed­ness. Per­haps the char­ac­ter of Joe is its flaw, be­ing re­quired to give us noth­ing much more than word­less dis­may or ac­cep­tance of ev­ery­thing that is go­ing on. Nev­er­the­less, Dano has given us a sat­is­fy­ing drama of dam­aged lives.

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