WILD REVIEW

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Did Reese Witherspoon’s performance drive me wild with praise or RAGE?

The director of Dallas Buyers Club returns with another Oscar contender but can lightning strike twice?

Right, enough questions.

Not bad at all.

I had mixed feelings about Reese Witherspoon. I mean, Legally Blonde? No, no, no.

That was until her Oscar winning turn in Walk The Line. A complete transformation. And she delivers yet again with another solid performance.

So what’s it all about? Wild is basically a chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike (Short and sweet. Hey, no spoilers here).

Jean-Marc Vallee takes on another biopic but this time it just doesn’t quite feel as polished off as Dallas Buyers Club.

Understandably, they are completely different films BUT I found DBC had a lot more story and depth. This is a certainly an engaging if slow burning journey of one woman trying to find herself BUT it just doesn’t quite reach the heights that you expect.

Yves Belanger returns to deliver a visual masterpiece. The cinematography really made use of the locations.  A beautiful backdrop full of life and colour in one shot, desolate and dreary the next.

Witherspoon has more than enough screen presence to keep the film going. Crucial when she’s the main character that we are following for the next two hours!

The film flicks back and forth through Cheryl Strayed’s past as she embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Vallee and Hornby cleverly juxtapose the flashbacks with the past and present well. Revealing Strayed’s demons and darker moments as the journey becomes more strenuous. The challenge continuing to test her by the day.

The inner monologues from Strayed were a nice touch. Some of her one liners were quite funny; “Morning. Cold mush. Afternoon. Cold mush. Evening. Cold mush. I love cold mush.”

Her initial struggle was quite humourous for any amateur hiker (*Cough* Me* Cough*). Wrestling with her monster backpack, failing to set up her tent, buying the wrong gas canister for her cooker.

The pace worked for the majority of the film as Strayed dealt with the ever-changing temperatures; searing heat in the desert to the sub-zero temperatures of the snowfall that was never supposed to hit.

There were some interesting revelations. Some that did surprise me. Others you could suss. As Cheryl delved further into the wild, you couldn’t help but feel an air of unease and suspense. The wildlife creeping in the dark.

The paranoia of the unknown made for a funny incident involving a caterpillar and a sleeping bag. BUT it also made for a tense one. A pair of hunters make an unpleasant and unwelcome appearance.

I loved some of the metaphorical imagery. The fact Cheryl is literally standing in the middle of a crossroads as she debates hitching a ride all the way back home was hardly subtle but nicely done.

The CGI fox was a little irritating. I mean, it was a nice moment when it first appeared but when it kept popping up, it was irritating and the CGI seemed to get worse.

Strayed certainly meets a strange bunch of characters. The only problem is that they aren’t quite as memorable as you hope them to be.

I actually had to do a quick recap by looking at the cast list. A shame.

Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) was very good as Paul (Cheryl’s estranged partner). I thought Sadoksi and Witherspoon had great chemistry. It would have been nice to see more of their relationship. I mean the flashbacks zip through the life cycle of the relationship quite well but a little too quickly for my liking.

Laura Dern did a good performance as Strayed’s mum, Bobbi but Oscar worthy? I’m not so sure.

She certainly played the part well and I felt for her character in the small flashbacks she appeared in BUT then again let’s not forget that Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love and she was only in that for 8 minutes!

However, there was one scene in which Bobbi just breaks down after hiding behind her scatty, smiley mask for so long and Dern was outstanding. But I wanted more. There just wasn’t enough of that in the film for me.

The more I thought about the story line and the characters Strayed came across, it reminded me a little too much of Sean Penn’s brilliant travel biopic (coincidentally titled) Into the Wild. The beautiful landscapes, the flashbacks, a likeable lead (in Emile Hirsch).

I mean, even the whole “meeting different people who share their stories” spiel bared a striking resemblance (but with more memorable characters). If you were unlucky not to see this; first go see it and second, Wild may fare a bit better for you than it did for me.

BUT to those who have seen the Penn pic, you may find it hard not to make comparisons which Wild falls just a little bit short.

My main qualm about the film was that despite dipping in pace, it just ended so abruptly.

A quick quote and a summary of what happened next. That’s it?! We didn’t even get to see Strayed finish the trail properly.

I just felt after all that time, it would have been nice to have a few more minutes flashing through Strayed’s life after this spiritual journey to let it come full circle.

I won’t spoil anything but as Strayed explains her life in the closing speech, I couldn’t help but notice a massive continuity error with the time frame in which the events leading up and after her trail were supposed to have happened. It just didn’t add up.

It was a bum note on a well acted and highly watchable drama.

Witherspoon certainly does enough to warrant that Oscar nod but Best Actress? I don’t know.

But if you want a well acted spiritual journey flick to break up the hum drum heading our way, then invest.

3/5

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DALLAS BUYERS CLUB REVIEW

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Alright, alright, alright.

In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease.

An engrossing (and gritty) tale of one’s man fight for survival. I can’t believe this was a true story. McConaughey provided a stellar performance. Worthy of that Oscar gold.

What made this story more interesting was the fact that Woodroof was a homophobic redneck who had unprotected sex with drug users. The moment he revealed his diagnosis, he was soon ostracized by his friends and evicted from the trailer park. A somewhat darker Southern take on Philadelphia.

Woodroof was very much a man on the path to destruction. At first, it was quite difficult to empathise with him. His drug and alcohol abuse merely making his condition worse. He even stole the only FDA approved drug AZT.

“Screw the FDA, I’m gonna be DOA”.

BUT as his condition deteriorates, Woodroof has to deal with the bureaucracy of the US healthcare system and the FDA as he buys and sells unapproved FDA pills. Unapproved pills that are proving more successful in their trails than AZT.

Woodroof strikes up a business opportunity. Establishing a drugs membership, The Dallas Buyers Club, for struggling AIDS sufferers who aren’t getting the proper treatment. With his partner in crime, the transsexual Rayon (the Oscar wining Jared Leto), the pair work together to fight against the system and their expiry dates.

It was incredible watching the lengths that Woodroof went to. An unbelievable story. Yves Belanger’s cinematography created a gritty look that fitted the tone and mood of the piece. Great direction by Jean-Marc Vallee (Wild), a well written script adapted from an in-depth interview with Woodroof himself by Craig Borten and a superb cast consisting of Jennifer Garner (Alias) as the conflicted Dr Eve Saks, Dennis O’Hare (True Blood) and Steve Zahn (in a surprisingly straight faced role) made this one to watch.

The pace was slow burning BUT allowed everything to bubble along perfectly. Leto and McConaughey were a fantastic duo. I couldn’t believe Leto was in this. He was on scene stealing form. The pair really put their bodies on the line for the roles. They looked ill. It did ponder the question on how far actors should go for a role. McConaughey lost over 3 stone. Crazy.

Dallas Buyers Club marked a resurgent return for the man and he hasn’t looked back since with True Detective, Wolf of Wall Street and Interstellar filling his filmography, I think there will be more to come.

Endearing, intriguing, emotional, gritty. Not what I expected at all. BUT all the better for it. Definitely worth your time.

4/5