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Into the Wild

Year: 2007
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Director: Sean Penn
Writer: Sean Penn
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan, Hal Holbrook, Jena Malone
This is one of those films I wanted too see but somehow kept missing at the movies. When I finally caught up with it on DVD it was as affecting as I hoped it'd be.

I expected to dislike the character of Christopher McCandless, and for most of the movie there was a lot about him not to like. He's an over-privileged kid who hates his parents and the assured path mapped out for him in education and career.

But turning his back on even the sister he's close to, giving away the last of his money and walking out the door to travel the country on foot without a word of contact to anyone makes him not just rebellious but unforgivably selfish and self centred.

It's when he finally discovers - too late - that life is only worth living if you don't cut yourself off from society and the people you love that he finally becomes likeable, or at least engenders our sympathy.

Penn structure the film in alternating sequences, of Chris' (Hirsch) travels and the people he meets interspersed with his ultimate destination of an abandoned bus where he makes his home beside a river in the wilderness of Alaska.

The travel sequences are strong but episodic, feeling like short TV series entries to get to the real story, his unravelling and redemption.

But Penn has a great directorial eye and a smart script gets great performances out of some wonderful actors, including ones like Vaughan with a lot to offer but who spend too much of their time mugging for comedy directors and paycheques, and a revelation in veteran Holbrook.

You'll spend most of your time more impressed with the movie than McCandless himself, but the last ten minutes drag you terrifyingly into his skin, and the final shot of the photo the real Chris took of himself not long before the end is as haunting as the rest of the movie.

Hirsch's standout performance in this must have felt like his shot at the A list, but if you're only as hot as your last film, he's in trouble after the huge gleaming abortion that was Speed Racer.

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