Something about carrying a film set in the wilderness seems to allow actors to reach a level of ability that they have never been capable of before. Whether it was Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, Willem Dafoe in The Hunter or many other examples we have seen a lot of phenomenal performances from films set in the wilderness. Wild is no different as we get career best work from Reese Witherspoon. Wild ultimately comes across as a lesser Into the Wild, a film that follows a person coming to terms with the faults within mankind through the wilderness, but it does have a lot to offer besides Witherspoon’s performance. This is one of the most realistic interpretations of loneliness in the wilderness that we have ever seen on the big screen and director Jean-Marc Vallee assembles a team of artists that actually bring some interesting technical achievements to fruition that similar films such as Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours have tried and failed to do.
Wild tells the true story of Cherly Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), a woman who turns to sex and drugs to cope with the loss of her mother. Determined to get back control over her life, she decides to trek the entire Pacific Crest trail by herself.
The story itself really isn’t the selling point for the film. It’s something that we have seen numerous times before even if it is portrayed in a slightly different fashion. Instead it is Reese Witherspoon’s performance that makes this film worth seeing. It is easy to say that this performance is great because it is so demanding (even if that is true). However, what really makes this performance great is that the little intricacies that Jean-Marc Vallee inserts into the film to make it stand out from similar efforts are put into the film though Reese Witherspoon. Whether it’s the gritty nature of the film (which Witherspoon takes on without fear) or the focus on just how loneliness can affect someone (Witherpoon’s voiceover work is truly haunting even if the sound team deserves just as much credit), Witherspoon finds ways to make this performance and film unique.
Ultimately, the film’s biggest problem also prevents its downfall. So many films of this nature have directors that try too hard and ultimately ruin the film. Jean-Marc Valley does not do that as it’s in his nature to have the performances carry his films. That is what ruined Dallas Buyers Club for me as it seemed like an exercise in acting rather than a film. While he doesn’t insert much style at all into this film (the technical aspects of the film are impressive though), standing out of the way of the narrative and performances does more good than harm in the end.
Wild is a solid if derivative tale of survival in the wild.