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USA 2014
Directed by
Jean-Marc Vallée
115 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Angie Fox
4.5 stars


Synopsis: Following the untimely death of her mother, years of self-destructive behaviour and the dissolution of her marriage, in a bold attempt to start her life afresh Cheryl Strayed decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, which spans 1,100 miles from the US-Mexican border through to the US-Canadian border. As she walks, unprepared and without training, the story of her life is revealed.

As with films dealing with similar subject matter, notably Into the Wild and Tracks, Wild tells the story of one person’s lonely journey through physically and emotionally demanding and, at times, treacherous territory. What makes Wild particularly engaging and appealing is that it is the story of a deeply damaged human attempting to literally walk herself back to being the person her mother loved so deeply.

The heartfelt simplicity of this premise makes the film so relatable to, and a humble, unselfconscious performance by Reese Witherspoon, perhaps the performance of her career, is what anchors it. Much as Cheryl carries an enormous pack on her back, bruising her skin, so Witherspoon carries the entire film with unwavering intensity.

Evocative cinematography captures the essence of the hike and its brutal physical constraints. But it is the use of music that so vividly conjures up the feeling of solitude and of trekking endlessly through the changing terrain. Vallée (who directed last year's Dallas Buyer's Club) chooses to play snippets of songs, but intersperses them with Witherspoon’s humming and quiet singing.

Writer Nick Hornby has adapted Strayed’s popular memoir to the big screen utilising flashbacks to tell her backstory and building a narrative structure that is at once highly artistic and at the same time completely engaging.

Despite some of the gritty flashbacks to Strayed’s past, Wild is not about redemption, which makes it all the more successful. Rather it is about dealing with the hand that you are dealt, feeling the pain of life and moving into the future with grace.

Wild is a visually compelling, gut-wrenching drama that never loses its way.




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