Sofa surfer’s awak­en­ing

Sean Penn di­rects the com­pelling story of one man’s jour­ney. Plus, a thought-pro­vok­ing po­lit­i­cal thriller

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS - BY GER­ALD AARON

INTO THE WILD

WHILE I ad­mired Sean Penn’s in­tense di­rec­tion of such films as The Cross­ing Guard, The In­dian Run­ner and The Pledge for be­ing un­de­ni­ably wellthought-out and pro­fes­sion­ally made, I also found them emo­tion­ally arid and tend­ing to­wards pre­ten­tious. Not so with Into the Wild, which show­cases an award-wor­thy per­for­mance by Emile Hirsch as the film’s ex­tra­or­di­nary pro­tag­o­nist Chris McCand­less. It is warm, emo­tion­ally com­pelling and, while long, never out­stays its wel­come.

At 22, McCand­less grad­u­ated from col­lege, gave away his $24,000 ed­u­ca­tion fund to char­ity and walked out on his priv­i­leged life to travel into the wilds in search of ad­ven­ture.

His odyssey took him from West Vir­ginia, Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia and ul­ti­mately to Alaska, meet­ing and learn­ing from a rich variety of fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters — most of them from the fringes of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety — while along the way while he at­tempted come to terms with his trau­matic es­trange­ment from his par­ents.

Penn’s sure adap­ta­tion of J on Krakauer’s non-fiction best­seller is com­pelling. There is fine cast­ing and equally im­pres­sive play­ing of sup­port­ing roles (William Hurt and Mar­cia Gay Har­den as McCand­less’s feud­ing par­ents, Catherine Keener’s age­ing hippy and, mem­o­rably, Hal Hol­brook’s lonely wi­d­ower).

The flash­backs to McCand­less’ pre­vi­ous life pro­ceed at a leisurely pace de­signed to pro­vide max­i­mum emo­tional im­pact, and Eric Gau­tier’s mag­nif­i­cent lo­ca­tion and cin­e­matog­ra­phy com­bine into su­perb sto­ry­telling.

And, above all, Hirsch’s un­for­get­table and haunt­ing char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion (he lost nearly 3st to play the ema­ci­ated McCand­less at the deeply af­fect­ing cli­max) makes this movie ex­cep­tion­ally mov­ing.

LI­ONS FOR LAMBS

DI­REC­TOR-STAR ROBERT Red­ford and screen­writer Matthew Michael Car­na­han’s thought-prov­ing po­lit­i­cal thriller ex­am­ines the pros and cons of the United States cur­rent mil­i­tary in­cur­sions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Re­fresh­ingly, in an era of over­long films it comes in at 90 min­utes, none of them wasted. Red­ford’s meld­ing of the film’s three ap­par­ently dis­parate nar­ra­tives works very well in­deed. He plays ide­al­is­tic univer­sity lec­turer Dr Stephen Mal­ley at­tempt­ing to per­suade non­cha­lant stu­dent Todd (bril­liantly played by Andrew Garfield) to make some­thing of his life.

In the sec­ond nar­ra­tive strand, two of his for­mer stu­dents, Finch and Ro­driguez (Derek Luke, Michael Peña), fight for sur­vival af­ter a mis­sion in Afghanistan goes wrong.

In par­al­lel, Repub­li­can and wouldbe pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Sen­a­tor Irv­ing (Tom Cruise in pos­si­bly a ca­reer best per­for­mance) gives jour­nal­ist Ja­nine Roth (yet an­other per­fect per­for­mance by Meryl Streep) a pos­si­ble scoop…

Li­ons for Lambs makes the most of its ma­te­rial and is grip­ping, in­tel­li­gent and com­pelling through­out.

PLANET TER­ROR

ROBERT RO­DRIGUEZ’S noisy zom­bie shocker formed the sec­ond half of Quentin Tarantino’s em­bar­rass­ingly self-rev­er­en­tial Grind­house dou­ble bill which de­servedly flopped in the States.

The good news, such as it is, is that Ro­driguez’ graphic, gory and es­sen­tially driv­el­ling homage to 1970s ex­ploita­tion movies is not as bad as Tarantino’s dis­as­trous con­tri­bu­tion, Death Proof. That said, Ro­driguez does his best to live up to his ex­am­ple.

In­ci­den­tally, Tarantino turns up as an ‘ac­tor’ and gives the worst per­for­mance, no easy task. One to miss.

SILK

KEIRA KNIGHT­LEY looks lovely in 19th-cen­tury cos­tume and gives her now over-familiar tooth-bar­ing grin as He­lene, the de­voted wife of young French mil­i­tary man Con­cour (Michael Pitt).

He falls ob­ses­sively for a beau­ti­ful Ja­panese girl while visit­ing Ja­pan to pur­chase silk­worm eggs. Stun­ning cin­e­matog­ra­phy (Alain Dostie) helps em­balm this fu­ne­real ro­man­tic drama, di­rected with all the pace of an arthritic silk­worm by Fran­cois Ger­ard.

For in­som­ni­acs only.

Emile Hirsch as Chris McCand­less in Sean Penn’s im­pres­sive road movie Into The Wild

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