A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.
Featuring the best Reese Witherspoon performance since ‘Walk The Line‘, ‘Wild‘ is a terrific tale about one women’s quest to battle her demons by hiking 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. Last year, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both won Oscars for their performances under Jean-Marc Vallée’s direction in ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club‘, and there’s every possibility that ‘Wild‘ will garner Witherspoon’s second nomination of her career. Canadian director Vallée has been writing and directing films for years, and he came to my attention with the excellent ‘Cafe de Flore‘ in 2012, before following up with the superb ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club‘ last year, and his skill as a director, firstly in directing actors, and secondly in bringing a story to life are shown to great effect here. With a brilliant script from Nick Hornby, ‘Wild‘ is funny, moving and full of hope, and it’s a great film.
Reese Witherspoon is outstanding throughout, and she gives a raw and courageous performance as Cheryl Strayed. Cheryl is flawed, and has many issues to overcome but there’s a determination and willingness inside her to be better that makes us root for the character. Witherspoon so fully embodies the character that we feel every moment of pain, every moment of joy and every scrape and bruise as she goes on her way. As her mother, Laura Dern is sympathetic and strong and her scenes provide a lot of insight into how Cheryl turned into the person she is, as well as emphasising her importance in Cheryl’s life. Over the course of her journey she encounters many people, and there’s some nice cameos from Bill Paxton, Kevin Rankin, Michiel Huisman and particularly W. Earl Brown, who’s introduction is a clever sleight of hand from Vallée.
Compare this film with last year’s ‘Tracks‘, which told a similar story of one woman travelling a long distance by herself. The film itself was an enjoyable but emotionally distant watch, and it lacked the heart or the emotion that drives ‘Wild‘ throughout. ‘Wild‘ as a film is much more alive, and this is largely down to Witherspoon’s winning performance and several clever directorial choices from Vallée (and a great soundtrack always helps!). The film uses voiceover narration and flashbacks to flesh out the story, and to provide the background to why Cheryl is on this journey in the first place, and this helps the film to feel pacy, without losing its meditative feel. The focus itself may be on the journey but the film is about the character and the message and these tools help to invest the viewer in Cheryl and her story.
‘Wild‘ is warm hearted, determined, painful and funny, and it features one of the year’s best performances from Reese Witherspoon. It comes with a powerful message that there’s always hope and there’s always a path forward in life, and this is encapsulated by one of the quotes from Laura Dern as her mother in one of the flashbacks, ‘be the best version of yourself that you can be”. ‘Wild’ is about making the most of what you’ve got in life, and it’s a terrific piece of cinema.
Directed By: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Bill Paxton, Michiel Huisman, W. Earl Brown, Kevin Rankin, Gaby Hoffmann and J.D. Evermore