SHOULD I SEE IT?
An impressive directorial debut from Paul Dano, the acclaimed actor who shows a mastery behind the camera common with a seasoned veteran.
Largely comprised of four main performances, the work from Carey Mulligan and Ed Oxenbould are among the finest performances of 2018.
Adapted from a Richard Ford novel, Wildlife transports us to Montana, c. 1960, and feels authentic to a slower, more subdued time when issues and problems were often swept under the rug.
The pacing will be a turn-off for some viewers, as Wildlife moves at a measured, deliberate speed.
A film not afraid to show and even embrace its characters flaws. As a result, the film plays fair but fails to let anyone off the hook and that is something viewers will have to try and accept.
A quiet, contemplative, intuitive drama, Wildlife may be a film some watch and wonder what the point of everything happened to be.
For his directorial debut, Paul Dano brings us into a colorless, melancholy world of 1960 Montana for an adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel Wildlife. Dano, who adapted the novel with partner and fellow actor Zoe Kazan, places us in the middle of a husband and wife teetering on the brink of falling apart; something we realize before the couple’s 14-year-old son does.
As a forest fire encroaches on the town of Great Falls, Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) is working as a do-anything-and-everything, jack-of-all-trades at a golf course, while wife Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) is a homemaker closely bonded with their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould). When Jerry is let go for rather nebulous reasons, Jeannette offers to get a job, a notion Jerry is not all that happy about. Recognizing the hardship his parents are going through, Joe secures work assisting a local portrait photographer in town, but no one could predict Jerry’s next move.
As Jeannette finds work as a part-time swim teacher, and later as an assistant of sorts to car dealership owner Mr. Miller (Bill Camp), some 20 years her senior, Jerry makes the knee-jerk decision to train to become a firefighter and help on the frontlines against the wildfires which are not only ravaging the state, but starting to threaten Great Falls.
Jerry, steadfast and bullish, leaves the family to join the fight, and a seething, frustrated Jeannette all but writes him off. This comes as a surprise to Joe, not only that his mother is making bold new decisions in her life, but that his father is simply gone. Every day. And with no way to contact him, he may never see him again.
The melodramatic trap doors are seemingly everywhere.
Jeannette’s interest in finding her own identity, which may or may not include her new boss, could be depicted with scenes of elevated emotion and heightened anger. Jerry could give speeches about how angry he is, how people have wronged him, and blame others for his inability to stay employed and support his family. Joe could perseverate, withdraw, and not know how to handle a new family dynamic that he wants to repair itself immediately.
And while all of those things do happen, Dano exercises great restraint as a filmmaker. Writing with Kazan, they seek to dig deeper, undercutting the surface-level things we observe, with an effort to truly understand what drives these people to embrace these life-changing moments so freely.
In that regard, Wildlife is a gem. Though it moves at a deliberate pace (more on this in a moment), Dano and Kazan do not hide people’s flaws, but humanize them, for better or worse. Be it 1960s Montana, or 2018 Anywhere Else, the problems and issues Joe witnesses consume his parents are still felt by families to this very day.
For those who like a quicker, more efficient film, Wildlife may drag and frustrate some viewers. Because the performances are so good, Mulligan shines bright in a rather tricky, complex turn as Jeannette, we are invested in the events we see play out before us. However, Dano matches the lifestyle of the times, and in a 1960s Montana setting, life simply moved slower and time felt more gradual. Emulating this comes at something of a cost in the overall impact Wildlife has upon its audience.
With a terrific performance from Mulligan, and an impressive turn from Oxenbould, and solid work from Gyllenhaal, Wildlife is among the finest acted dramas of 2018. Thoughtful, challenging at times, but honest with the story it is wanting to tell, I found plenty to think about and sink my teeth into here.
On top of that, we see the emergence of Paul Dano’s talents behind the camera, offering a terrific and exciting new chapter for one of the more unique and talented actors of this generation.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp.
Director: Paul Dano
Written by: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan
Adapted from the novel “Wildlife” by Richard Ford
Release Date: October 19, 2018