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