Thursday, January 17, 2008

'Into the Wild' Reviews

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


•• Kyles Smith: Rating 4/4
I’ve seen 52 (different) movies in the last 52 days, so I don’t think I’ve been slacking as a film critic, but until today I hadn’t seen Sean Penn’s adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book “Into the Wild.” I was exhilarated and devastated.

The movie is a picaresque, which is to say a series of barely-connected adventures, but together they form an epic of one man’s life. McCandless in the film is a crunchy wanderer who cuts up his ID cards, gives away his life savings, and burns his petty cash to give himself to a love for the wilderness that will turn out to be unrequited. It’s an attractive idea to a lot of men: 200 proof nature, with all its challenges and thrills. McCandless learns to camp and even hunt for his own food, but when he runs short of provisions takes odd jobs such as one with a farmer (Vince Vaughn) or with a couple of wandering hippies who sell books out of their RV. Even this isn’t an extreme enough rejection of materialism, though: he resolves to spend the summer in Alaska, alone, living off the land.

As the film flashes back and forth from his final months in Alaska to his travels around the west, nature seems at first to keep delivering friends and good fortune. He rows down the Colorado river and manages to sneak in and out of Mexico. Yet when trying to hobo his way around on a train, he takes a vicious beating from a railroad man who doesn’t appreciate the added liability of having a stowaway. Even this far away from it all, liability, lawyerspeak, is frustrating his ambitions. And nature becomes a terrible poem that McCandless becomes increasingly unable to read.

Though McCandless is a romantic figure, Penn makes it clear that he is not a hero. He isn’t so much seeking out the beauty of nature as grasping for an impossible, pure perfection that he sees as the antithesis of his troubled parents and their wealth. Late in the movie, he meets an old man (Hal Holbrook, giving a touching performance) who is a devout Christian and knows the outdoors. He says God’s bounty is not in the splendor of nature, but in the intimacy of human relationships–in love. It’s a hard lesson for a 23-year-old, and McCandless doesn’t get it.

Penn seems like the kind of man who would dearly love to wander the continent, but he doesn’t, because of those human relationships. He has a wife and family who need him, and so do we all. When McCandless meets a folky singer (an impressive Kristen Stewart), she practically begs him to be her boyfriend. He refuses because, he says, she’s too young, but the girl is a beauty and it’s hard to believe him. There’s something missing in this man. He’s as alienated from sex as he is from shopping malls.

Both the cruel beauty of the film and this quality of its main character call to mind Werner Herzog’s similar, and similarly brilliant, documentary “Grizzly Man,” about Timothy Treadwell, a nature lover who lived among the bears in Alaska and treated them as big fluffy pets, until they ate him. Treadwell claimed, not very convincingly, to have a girlfriend (a woman he brought along who also died but whom he almost entirely ignored in his many video diaries). He too seemed uninterested in sex, or any other kind of human interaction.

You could call both men wilderness autistics; they communicate better with a mountain stream or an animal than with other people. But that’s their tragic flaw. ”Into the Wild” is one of the most exacting, thoughtful and meaningful films of recent years, one that artfully merges several great conflicts–man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. himself–into one spellbinding and saddening experience.

•• Cole Smithey: Rating B+
Sean Penn directs this thoroughly satisfying account of Christopher McCandless’s wilderness journeys that Jon Krakauer eloquently brought to light in his 1996 best-selling book. Emile Hirsch personifies the fiercely idealistic and self-absorbed young man who severed ties with his upper middle-class family in search of personal truths on a literary-fuelled odyssey that ended near Alaska’s Denali National Park. Intermittent narration from McCandless’s sister Carine (Jena Malone) combines with samples of her brother’s writing, and bits of text from the authors McCandless constantly read (Henry Thoreau, Nikolai Gogol, Jack London and Leo Tolstoy), to add layers of vital subtext. Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook, Brian Dierker, and Kristen Stewart contribute memorable supporting performances as people won over by McCandless’s ineffable charms.

•• The Commercial Appeal, John Beifuss: Unsurprisingly, Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" is sympathetic toward its real-life hero, Christopher McCandless, an "aesthetic voyager" seeking emancipation from the "false security" of "material success" who was found dead of starvation inside his campsite of a derelict bus in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. He was 24.

Scripted and directed by Penn from John Krakauer's 1996 best-seller, the movie is more impressionistic and less journalistic than its source. The book was short and snappy; the movie meanders, presenting an episodic "Easy Rider"-influenced odyssey that is part hippie idyll, part physical challenge, part self-education course and part thwarted romance, until the inevitable tragedy of its outcome, depicted by Penn as essentially a religious sacrifice. One can almost hear the words: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

The film itself looks to have been emancipated in the editing room from an excess of footage, shot on location in Alaska, Arizona, California, South Dakota, Mexico and the other places McCandless -- who rechristened himself "Alexander Supertramp" -- visited during his ill-fated two-year journey. At first, the almost random nature of the narrative is distracting, but eventually it becomes seductive, transforming the viewer into a fellow nomad. It helps that the people McCandless meets are not only interesting but played by such actors as Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener and Kristen Stewart, whose duet with Hirsch during a hippy-camp performance of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" is heartbreaking. Near the end of the film, 85-year-old Hal Holbrook shows up as a lonely widower, and immediately establishes himself as the front-runner for next year's Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

Penn isn't above a corny "king of the world" type shot of McCandless atop a mountain, arms outstretched, the camera swirling around him like a tetherball. But although the scenery throughout the film is spectacular, it's not photographed romantically, as in a Terrence Malick film. Instead, these canyons, rivers, deserts, wheat fields and forests appear much as they would in a documentary film; their topography is no more fascinating than that of the faces McCandless encounters. We realize that the people whose company McCandless plans to shun are themselves part of the natural world -- a realization that comes too late for the film's holy fool of a hero.

•• ViewLondon, Matthew Turner: Rating 4/5
Impressively directed, beautifully written and superbly acted, this is a genuinely uplifting tale (despite its sobering conclusion) with spectacular photography throughout.

The Good - Hirsch is terrific as Chris, delivering an intensely physical performance that seems to shine with an inner light. There's a kindness and an infectious sense of human curiosity to Chris that makes it easy to see why so many people took him under their wing – at least, as far as he allowed them to.

The supporting cast are equally superb, particularly Keener and Dierker, while Kristen Stewart shines as Tracy (their duet for an audience of hippies is one of many highlights). Similarly, William Hurt has a short moment towards the end of the film that is delivered without dialogue and is utterly heart-breaking.

The Great - Penn seems to have a real affinity for McCandless's story and the film's flashback-heavy structure ensures that the pace never drags, despite the lengthy running time and the fact that Chris spends a large part of the film inside his Alaskan Magic Bus. The film also makes full use of the spectacular American landscape, with stunning cinematography courtesy of Eric Gautier.

Worth seeing? - Into the Wild is a thoroughly engaging, superbly directed film about a remarkable young man, with an Oscar-worthy performance from Emile Hirsch. Highly recommended.

•• Laramie Movie Scope: Rating B
“Into the Wild” is a dramatization of the brief life of a young man, Christopher McCandless, (played in the film by Emile Hirsch of “Lords of Dogtown”) who engaged in high-risk adventures that eventually resulted in his death. This movie like the Jon Krakauer book it was based upon is a highly romantic version of that simple fact. McCandless' death by starvation in Alaska has been so romanticized that people have been known to journey to the same spot where he died in order to experience what McCandless experienced, not necessarily the death and starvation part of it, but that could happen, too. Enough of these nuts have come to Alaska that the locals are thinking of moving the bus that served as McCandless' coffin to another location to discourage imitators.

To its credit, this film directed by Sean Penn (“The Pledge”) does not hold McCandless up as some kind of hero who should be copied. He is portrayed as a troubled, deeply wounded young man who undertook these high risk adventures in order to heal himself. I think a lot of people, myself included, feel there is a kind of healing power in the wilderness experience. The movie advances that theory and even indicates that McCandless was healed by his great Alaskan adventure in remote wilderness, but got trapped there and was unable to get out before his brief life ended. Like Thoreau before him, McCandless wanted to confront the essentials of life in the wilderness. Most of all he wanted to feel alive on an elemental, primitive level. The movie argues he achieved those goals. McCandless' story also taps into another powerful human need that is not being met by modern society: a way to find meaning outside of work and corporate identity -- a need to strike out on one's own and meet people outside of normal societal structures.

McCandless came from an upper middle class background. His parents had mapped out his life for him, but he rejected all that, in part for reasons revealed in the movie having to do with a shocking betrayal by his parents. This betrayal gave McCandless an exaggerated sense of the corruption of society. It was also the main reason that McCandless sought out the wilderness. In an earlier age, he might have become a mountain man, or a hermit. McCandless' story is told in a series of flashbacks highlighting his journey to the wilds of Alaska. This particular story structure does not serve the film well, however. The flashbacks tell how McCandless was befriended by an employer, Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn of “The Wedding Crashers”), by a couple of hippies, Jan Burres (Catherine Keener of “Capote”) and her partner Rainey (Brian Dierker, who is also the coordinator for the kayak stunts) and by an older man, Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook of “The Majestic”) who sees McCandless as the son he wished he had. All of these people seem to want something from McCandless. Another person close to McCandless is his sister, Carine (Jena Malone of “Pride and Prejudice”). Kristen Stewart (“Zathura”) plays Tracy, the hottest jailbait I've seen in years.

The movie has two strong suits. The first is the acting, which is superb by everyone, especially Emile Hirsch, who is a real revelation here. His scenes with Hal Holbrook are especially touching. Catherine Keener, who has been on a real professional roll the past few years, turns in another Oscar-worthy performance here. William Hurt of “The Good Shepherd” turns in a great performance as Christopher McCandless' father, Walt, and Marcia Gay Harden of “The Hoax” is also excellent as McCandless' mother, Billie. Don't be surprised if this film generates multiple Oscar nominations in the acting categories. The movie's other strong suit is location photography. This film is shot in the actual locations where McCandless traveled and the scenery is spectacular. In an age when most films set in the United States are shot in other countries (including China), it is refreshing to see all those great U.S. locations on film. Cinematographer Eric Gautier (“Paris, je t'aime”) captures some gorgeous scenery in this film. He also captures a romantic vision of nature as well as the stark, impersonal horror of a more realistic vision of nature.

•• Newsreview, Jim Lane: Rating 3/5
Writer-director Sean Penn adapts Jon Krakauer’s book about Chris McCandless, the young man who renounced his middle-class privileges and hit the road as “Alexander Supertramp,” living the life of a latter-day hippie communing with nature—until his luck ran out and he starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. Penn’s film is a loving tribute to McCandless’ restless nature, overlong (at 153 minutes it seems assembled rather than edited), but beautifully photographed (by Eric Gautier) and expertly acted by Emile Hirsch as McCandless, William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden as his flawed parents, and Brian Dierker, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, and Kristen Stewart as people he meets on the road. A standout is Hal Holbrook as an aging widower whom McCandless coaxes out of his shell of loneliness.

•• Dustin Putman: Rating 3,5/4
There are times in probably every person's life when he or she fantasizes, if only for a moment, in leaving their everyday responsibilities and mundane routines behind and taking to the open road. For most of us, the idea is immediately shot down by a conscience that tells us how impractical it is, and thus, we are left to reserve vacations and special occasions for such experiences. For 22-year-old college graduate Christopher McCandless, he not only threw these concerns aside, but he donated away his $24,000 savings and burned the rest of his cash as a way of freeing himself from the materialistic norms of the rest of society. Call him irresponsible, call him crazy, but from 1990 to 1992, he made the choice to sever all ties with his family and live off the land of the earth, moving from place to place and having adventure after adventure up and down the U.S.'s west coast. His ultimate goal was to reach the wilds of Alaska, a destination that he did finally reach. The cost of fulfilling his dream, however, was much greater than he could have anticipated.

The performances are superlative. Emile Hirsch carries the project on his back—he is in approximately 98% of the scenes—and his turn is that of a real actor's actor, seemingly transforming into rather than portraying his character. Chris is more frustrating than endearing, and yet he is someone that the viewer grows deep care and concern for through the course of the sprawling 147-minute running time. Hirsch's physical transformation is equally startling, pulling a Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" and sinking his weight to the point where he looks disturbingly gaunt and malnourished by the end.

Supporting work from Catherine Keener (2005's "Capote"), as the motherly Jan; Marcia Gay Harden (2007's "The Invisible") and William Hurt (2007's "Mr. Brooks"), as Chris' flawed and grief-stricken parents; Jena Malone (2004's "Saved!"), as sister Carine, and Kristen Stewart (2007's "In the Land of Women"), as the flirtatious Tracy, is powerful. Finally, longtime veteran character actor Hal Holbrook (2001's "The Majestic") is, at the age of 82, a revelation as the sprightly yet forlorn Ron. Holbrook's every moment onscreen is astonishing, the depth with which he possesses from his eyes and infers through his voice no less than staggering. The relationship between Ron and Chris is only a small part of "Into the Wild," time-wise, but it is the one that most sticks with the viewer, emotionally captivating and resonant. If there is any justice, Holbrook will be a deserved Oscar nominee come early next year.

A heartrending slice of Americana both inspiring and foreboding in its view of a world that will exist long after we are all gone, "Into the Wild" would be a first-rate companion piece with both 2004's Spanish-language "The Motorcycle Diaries" and 2005's documentary "Grizzly Man." The former film and this one happen to share something else—cinematographer Eric Gautier—and he outdoes himself here, taking lavishly sublime advantage of outdoor locations in, among them, Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, South Dakota, California, New Mexico and Arizona. The use of songs, many of them original tunes performed by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, effectively serve their purpose even though a more eclectic soundtrack would have allowed for a more expansive scope.

As writer-director Sean Penn turns the corner and moves down the home stretch, the film becomes disturbingly stark, the viewer unable to do anything but witness the final deterioration of a young man whose untimely fate is inextricably woven with his path toward pure happiness. He does not find that level of contentment in time, but he does learn the crucial key to it, and that's more than can be said for some people who live three or four times as long as Chris. "Into the Wild" is a great motion picture—haunting, difficult to take at times, and endlessly compelling.

•• Creative Loafing Charlotte, Matt Brunson: Into the Wild is especially memorable in the manner in which it offers no absolutes. Functioning as a bookend piece to Werner Herzog's excellent documentary Grizzly Man, it demonstrates that nature is as beastly as it is beautiful, and even noble aspirations run the risk of getting trampled under its imposing weight. All of the characters have their say, yet even when people's opinions run counter to each other's, everyone is making sense and no one is being disingenuous. Penn obviously feels enormous sympathy (and perhaps a kinship?) for his protagonist, yet he doesn't present him as a saint, only a charismatic if troubled kid whose defining feature is that he managed to live a life less ordinary.

•• The Movie Report : Rating 3/4
Like all of the films Sean Penn has directed, his take on Jon Krakauer's fact-based bestseller is fairly slow-going (not to mention long: just shy of two and a half hours), and it seems to be meandering to an obvious point as it follows recent college grad Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a.k.a. Alexander Supertramp, on a long journey to cut himself off from family and everyone and everything else to the wilds of Alaska. The point is indeed the obvious one that can come from a story about someone intent on being completely isolated, and while the film sometimes feels a little repetitive and tedious as Hirsch passes through towns and by various colorful characters (though all the actors in these roles, particularly a very subtly powerful Hal Holbrook, do memorable work), it does have a profound cumulative effect by the end--a testament not only to Penn's control and understanding of the material, but the terrific lead turn by Hirsch, who makes a naive, selfish, and not especially likable character an empathetic, all-too-painfully real person.

•• Eye for film, Amber Wilkinson: Rating 4/5
Sean Penn’s latest film wears its poetic intentions on its sleeve from the outset, with a quote from Byron: “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, There is rapture on the lonely shore, There is society where none intrudes, By the deep sea and the music in its roar; I love not man the less, but Nature more.”

Through the course of the movie, this quote will come to have a deeper, darker meaning than first appears but even examining it at face value it is imbued with the idea of nature as a lonely, roaring and inscrutable beast.

Vince Vaughn also acquits himself well as a farmhand with a past and a heart and its nice to see Kristen Stewart (so good in The Cake Eaters) bring her particularly believable brand of vulnerability to a role as the teen of a hippy family. Like the Byron poem that kicks off the narrative, however, this is a romanticised aspect to these encounters – in reality would everyone really be so open-armed?

At the centre of it all is Emile Hirsch, bringing heart to this little boy lost. He puts in a nuanced performance but it is a shame he wasn’t given slightly more to go on. Curiously, for a character so central to the scheme of things, he feels less well fleshed out than the people he meets. He also has a habit of spouting bits of cod philosophy, so that you begin to wonder what everyone sees in him. On the one hand he seems almost too good to be true and yet his failure to connect with people on a truly emotional level begs the question, why do they all like him so much? It is almost as though Penn has become so absorbed with the bigger picture of nature in the raw and mankind’s basic decency that he forgets to flesh out his central protagonist, or perhaps this is just his way of questioning McCandless’ judgment, which is clearly not the best.

The voice-overs are also a problem, keeping us at arm’s length when we should be drawing closer to Chris, and the runtime could definitely do with a trim – a scene, for example, in which a pair of ‘wacky Danes’ (or possibly Swedes) offer him a hotdog is utterly unnecessary. Occasionally, too, Penn finds himself unable to resist camera trickery, but shots of water in slow motion or the use of split-screen down on the farm only serve to jolt the narrative flow, taking us out of the moment he has previously painted.

Griping aside, this is an immense film in many ways. Its scope is huge and it was truly a labour of love for Penn, who spent 10 years trying to get the rights to Jon Kraukauer’s best-selling non-fiction book on which it is based. He carefully explores the relationship of man and nature and leaves the audience to draw its own conclusions. Oscar will no doubt be paying attention.

•• Empire, Dan Jolin: Rating 4/5
With the whole of America as his backdrop, Penn pulls off his most ambitious movie yet. The result is a beautiful and thought-provoking road movie.

•• Antagony & Ecstasy, Tim Brayton: Rating 5/10
I am trying very hard to keep my philosophical objections to Into the Wild from leaving me incapable of thinking critically about its actual quality as a film, and I'm finding it very difficult; writer-director Sean Penn is clearly very invested in his themes, and very anxious that we the audience should be overwhelmed by them. I find that I am only somewhat whelmed - or rather, I am overwhelmed by the intensity of theme, and underwhelmed by the sophomoric content thereof, and so I end up in the middle, sort of whelm-neutral.

The curious thing about the movie is that it makes no effort to hide the fact that Chris is wrong: besides the fact that he ultimately dies, he meets several people along his journey, all of them serving as surrogate families, and yet he keeps on with his refrain that to truly live, he must go on alone to Alaska, without any hint of evidence that any of the many people he meets are even moderately unhappy. But the way the film is shot (I haven't read the book) makes it clear that Chris has access to deep and abiding truths that all of us should aspire to: there are gawking backlit shots that make him seem godly, and at least two moments where he is explicitly being made to look Christlike.

White children of moneyed backgrounds often, in my observation, think that the only way that they can bring meaning to their lives is to throw off the shackles of behaving like a member of civilized society, which is all a bit appallingly selfish when you get right down to it (I wouldn't go so far as to call it Objectivist, but it's awfully similar). Chris McCandless isn't a role model: he's a bit of a jerk, treating most of his friends shabbily and his parents (to whom Penn added a neat-o abuse plotline, apparently worrying that we'd sympathise with them) worse. And he's a bloody fool: he knows not one thing about outdoorsmanship, and he died less than a mile from a tram line where he would have found rescue, if only he'd had a map of the area. I couldn't help but think of another film about an idealist who got in trouble from romanticising the Alaskan wilderness, Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man, but while that film was almost comically happy to indict the protagonist's idiocy, Penn clearly expects us to regard McCandless's fate as a beautiful tragedy.

Anyway, that's the part I didn't want to talk about.

Instead, the film as a film: which is not awful per se, although it suffers quite badly from the director's childlike enthusiasm for his subject. Put frankly, I have hardly ever seen a film so little thought-out as Into the Wild, which jams incoherent styles together like Play-Doh molded into some monstrous chimera of cinematic technique. There is no overriding sensibility that guides the film, only impulses that change from scene to scene and occasionally between shots. I gather that Penn had a great many tricks he wanted to try out, and he used them whenever he got the chance, whether it fit right or not. So we have rigidly balanced compositions bumping up against handheld documentary-style footage next to regular old Hollywood shot-reverse shot, and I don't even know what he was trying to pull with the constantly changing depth-of-field and inconsistent focus.

One scene stands out such that I must bring it up: Chris sits by the side of the road, eating an apple, and addressing it with apple-based puns. That, I think, is a bad scene. Meanwhile, Penn shoots it as a series of jump cuts. That actually makes it a wee bit better. Then someone (Chris or Emile Hirsch, I can't quite say) looks straight into the camera and waggles his eyebrows. That is unspeakably evil. It might well be the worst moment in the film, but somehow not inexplicable: the director is too unmoored for even batshit craziness like this to register as overreach.

On the other hand, the film is impossibly gorgeous, as shot by Eric Gautier, who has made a career out of gorgeous movies that are kind of bad in all other ways (his last project to make much impact in this country was the pancake-flat Che biopic The Motorcycle Diaries). Many of the very same decisions that make the drama so inscrutable (slow-motion, extensive use of godlike sun) make for some damn pretty shots. A while ago, I drew a distinction between cinematography that is a vital component of the story, and cinematography that is simply lovely to look at, and Gautier's work here is the purest and most beautiful example of the second type that I have seen all year.

As for the acting: we now have something that I would have assumed couldn't exist, an ensemble film in which Kristen Stewart gives the finest performance. That veteran of such actorly milestones as The Messengers and In the Land of Women plays a teenage hippie chanteuse who falls a little bit in love with Chris, but cannot dissuade him from his myopic quest, and she brings all the qualities to the role that you could hope for: fresh sexuality, hurt pride, quiet longing. Watching her is easily the highlight of the film. Other standouts in the cast include Catherine Keener (unsurprisingly) and Brien Dierker, a nonactor, as the hippie couple that provides Chris with his first surrogate family. Hal Holbrook's much ballyhooed turn as an old non-hippie actually left me a little cold, but I think that might have been primarily because I was so shocked that the film actually endorsed Chris's scheme of bullying the old man into risking a heart attack to prove that he wasn't chicken, that I wasn't really paying close attention.

Then, there are the two centerpieces: Emile Hirsch and Jena Malone as Chris's sister Carine. In an effort to ratchet up the cod-philosophy and retain the bookish nature of the story, Penn gives Carine unfathomable blocks of florid narration, most of which revolve around the concept that "our parents sucked nuggets, so the fact that Chris has abandoned everything in life is not merely defensible but noble." Which isn't so bad in and of itself, but the lines she is given to say are ponderous and much too taken with their own profundity. For two-and-a-half hours, we are forced to listen to Malone drone on and on with the most dreadful pseudo-emo pseudo-poetry imaginable. I do not blame Malone - the narration is nigh unto unreadable - but by the end of the film, I found myself hoping that I would never have to hear her speak again ever.

Hirsch, I will make no such excuses for. Chris McCandless is a perfect blank slate, in a way: everything we know about him was filtered through two or three or four other sources, and that means that he should be playable in just about any way the actor chooses. Hirsch makes no choice, leaving a completely empty figure at the center of a movie that desperately needs a dynamic central personality. It's not that he's unappealing or even uncharismatic (it is at any rate not hard to figure out why people fall a tiny bit in love with him), but in the moments when it's just him and the camera and the road, there's a great big nothing staring back at us. His performance is just as aimless and meandering as the rest of the film, and therefore it is precisely what the film deserves and much, much less than the film requires.

•• Journal Sentinel, Duane Dudek: "Into the Wild" is a celebratory ode to the road and the people you meet along the way, destination be damned. Unlike the book, in which the author's voice and own similar experiences ran throughout and provided counterpoint, the organizationally patchwork film is lacking in adult supervision.

There is no central, dominant or distinctive voice in control of the narrative and, in that, at least, it is true to the wanderlust spirit of McCandless, played by Emile Hirsch, whose wispy innocence suggests the silk of a milkweed plant, blown this way or that by prevailing winds.

••, Bruce Kirkland: Rating 4,5/5
The Oscar race starts in earnest today with Sean Penn's Into the Wild.

Yes, of course, there are films from earlier in the year that may figure into the competition when the Academy Awards nominations are announced.

But Penn's melancholic epic is a slam-dunk, a sure thing for voters in a variety of key categories, including as best picture.

On a personal level, this could really be 'it' for Penn, already a four-time Oscar nominee as best actor, with one win for his trophy case. Into the Wild could finally make him a best director nominee, an honour that would surely thrill Penn more than kudos as an actor (he does not appear in this new film).

Penn also deftly adapted Jon Krakauer's acclaimed non-fiction book to the screen, so adapted screenplay is another category of choice. Especially because Penn has spent a decade working to get this story told on screen.

Then we come to Emile Hirsch, who plays the tragic young protagonist -- real-life societal drop-out Christopher McCandless, a.k.a. Alexander Supertramp, a hobo on a unique mission of self-discovery.

With an exquisite tenderness and fragility, but also an inherent intelligence and sensitivity that seems perfect for Krakauer's portrait of the man, Hirsch channels McCandless into a flesh-and-blood character.

This is not an impersonation but a true acting job. Hirsch makes us believes so strongly in McCandless that even his mistakes -- the ones that doom him when he goes "into the wild" in Alaska -- seem perfectly logical. For that individual, with his limited knowledge of the environment, in that space and time.

That is an astonishing feat, as is Hirsch's ability to lose a big chunk of weight from his already small frame to look emaciated when the story demanded. If Hirsch is not named as a best actor candidate, the Oscars should be investigated for fraud and/or stupidity.

Into the Wild is intriguing, and quietly thrilling, because it operates on multiple planes with a fractured time line and impressionistic tones.

Characters played by Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Brian Kierker (a techie turned actor) and Kristen Stewart are notable in this regard.

On another plane, Into the Wild works as a contemplative study of America during a critical point in its socio-political history, a crisis of morality and conscience that pertains to its own time and reverberates now.

Penn's artistry is so mature, so stunningly evolved from his earlier films The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard and The Pledge, that he offers his insights without any hectoring or lecturing. McCandless' powerful story is told with an elegant restraint, and that makes it all the more evocative.

•• Deep Focus, Bryant: Rating A-
Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s sprawling, stumbling, epic biopic adapted from Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book, borrows heavily from the kind of American film that defined the idea of the road movie. It features zooms, split screens, jump cuts, and a song score by a growling Eddie Vedder that wouldn’t feel at all out of place on 70s radio. (With backing vocals by Corin Tucker, he revives “Hard Sun,” a 1989 anthem by Indio, a band too obscure to have even a Wikipedia entry or Allmusic biography, to great effect.) Cinematographer Eric Gautier (The Motorcycle Diaries, Clean, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train) favors long lenses here, the kind that can isolate one subject twixt foreground and background and then, dramatically changing their plane of focus, seek out another. They emphasizes the distances involved in the open spaces where much of the film takes place, and their voyeuristic qualities echo the book’s theme of observation across a temporal distance. Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) was found dead in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness. It was Krakauer’s job to figure out how an upper-middle-class kid ended up there; it’s Penn’s to imagine what the journey might have looked like.

The vintage stylistic approach is appropriate because it’s clear Penn considers this kid a throwback — to a more naive time, for sure, but also to a more idealistic one, and a purer one. McCandless is depicted here as a big-hearted kid full of the kind of wisdom that demands protection, as well as the notion of romantic self-aggrandizement that leads to his alias, Alexander Supertramp. Episodically, Into the Wild depicts Christopher’s brief dalliances with a number of surrogate families; all of them loving in their own ways, all of them taken by the charm of this kooky kid, and all of them mere roadside rest areas on the road to Alexander Supertramp’s Alaska.

[..] And when he meets a singer who’s more idealized girl-next-door than family member, Christopher demonstrates his admiration by performing with her on a makeshift stage. It’s one of the film’s only scenes that feels forced – a distinctly sub-Once duet — but Kristen Stewart is indeed beautiful, and their relation ship culminates in a sexual invitation from which Christopher demurs. I’m not clear on Penn’s meaning in this scene: does he consider it a testament to Christopher’s moral caliber that he resists temptation? Or is he demonstrating that there is no great temptation at all — that whatever attraction Chris feels for other people can’t compare to his sensual interest in the land itself?

Into the Wild would be an achievement based on cinematography alone. Stick around for the end credits to read the long list of locations used in South Dakota, Arizona, Alaska and Mexico; a lot of the film’s authenticity comes from the filmmakers’ clear enthusiasm for hitting the road themselves and getting hot, cold and wet. Gautier’s lens catches memorable images aplenty — in one shot early on, Hirsch looks like a hobbit among the huge tree trunks of a thick forest; in another, just visible beyond the roaring, out-of-focus whitewater that dominates the foreground, he considers his kayak attack on the rapids. And of course there are the requisite landscape shots, from beaches to farmland to the Alaska mountains.

As accomplished as the photography is, what’s even more glorious about Into the Wild is its essential messiness. It is frustrating to keep cutting back from the story of Alexander Supertramp to his parents back home, fretting over his whereabouts, although it does increase the stakes and underscore an essential fact: although Chris meant to follow his bliss, he also abandoned his family. The self-consciously poetic monologue of sister Carine (voiced by Jena Malone and written with input from the real Carine McCandless and also Sharon Olds) can feel a little portentous even as it generates a impressively dramatic Terrence Malick vibe. And Chris’s extended dalliance with wise old dude Hal Holbrook plays as a mildly tedious contrivance even as it underscores and amplifies Chris’s status as both visionary and naïf. And as much as Penn’s sporadic deployment of 70s-style stylistic mannerisms like freeze frames or white-flash frames is distracting, it’s also undeniably expressive.

Into the Wild is a personal film in the best sense of the word — movies are often described as “personal” if the subject matter can be said to have special significance for the filmmaker, but the term has a purer meaning that refers more to the filmmaker’s mode of expression, and this one feels like a clever combination of biopic and essay film. It represents something more than its narrative — it communicates a clear thinker’s combination of admiration and sympathy for a protagonist who was almost, but not quite, prepared to survive a back-to-nature experience that he considered to be his life’s culminating accomplishment.

In the film’s final reels, which must confront the facts of McCandless’s death, Penn goes for a kind of spiritual statement, dramatizing a mind/body schism on Christopher’s part. As Chris literally wastes away — in one scene, he’s so emaciated that even a wandering grizzly bear barely gives him a second look — he reaches some conclusions that will redeem him. Single-word writings in his journal (“lonely,” “scared”) suggest a man finally coming to grips with his own hubris. And there’s another, devastating realization: “Happiness only real when shared.” All this time wandering, trying to get as far from the scourge of other people as possible, only to realize their essential contribution to the fullness of self? It’s a painful moment, but, as Penn sees it, also an oddly celebratory one. Having learned that last, elusive lesson about human existence, McCandless finally reaches the end of his journey. Biopics rarely go so far — this is a tremendously satisfying experience.

•• IGN, Todd Gilchrist: In my limited experience with them, hippies can be a particularly self-righteous bunch. For all of their rule-defying, easygoing posturing, these folks who wear Birkenstocks, drive VW buses and bathe on an inconsistent basis often turn out to be self-important and surprisingly overbearing philosophers. All of which is why Into the Wild, about a young academic who decides to abandon material trappings for the simple pleasures of living off of the land, is such an invigorating film: It focuses on this alternative lifestyle without holding it over your head, or worse, shoving it down your throat.

On top of the film's exploration of this theme, Penn has also crafted an elegant travelogue and coming-of-age story, documenting Christopher's travails off the grid and reminding us in a simple, unpretentious way of the world's natural beauty. At the same time, Penn wisely restrains the impulse to turn the film into a nature documentary, instead showing how even the most gorgeous vista or backdrop can feel cold and inhospitable without someone else to share it with.

As Christopher, Hirsch gives a terrifically subtle performance and shows more signs that he may follow in the footsteps of versatile young leading men like Leonardo DiCaprio and Adrien Brody. As mentioned above, his character is insightful and even philosophical, but never preachy; even in the face of the toughest conditions he maintains a believable sense of optimism and maintains a sincere politeness that is almost inspiring. Meanwhile, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook and Kristen Stewart all contribute memorable turns as people whose lives Christopher touches, while William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden and Jena Malone create a vivid portrait of his fractured family in just a few brief flashbacks.

The fact that the film promotes his journey with sincerity rather than self-importance is its greatest virtue. In an era when "getting back to nature" isn't merely an anachronistic indulgence but a truly radical concept, Into the Wild makes his journey appealing without reminding you at every turn that Christopher is doing something important. That said, the film should definitely inspire a few folks to take off on a vision quest or spiritual journey, but at least Penn seems content to let that experience be their own instead of insisting that his is either the best or only way to achieve enlightenment -- which, in the end, is a living embodiment of what the bohemian movement really is, or perhaps should be: meaning is discovered through personal freedom, not dogmatic instruction. Into the Wild shows you the way, but lets you choose for yourself. And hippie or no, this trip is absolutely worth the effort.

•• Film Blather, Eugene Novikov: Rating A
I have not read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, and was not even aware that it purported to tell a true story. I approached Sean Penn’s adaptation at Telluride expecting a wilderness adventure, the sort of uplifting prestige picture that audiences here so readily embrace. I was not remotely prepared for this stunning, deeply troubling film — a road movie, a heartbreaking character study, a sincere and thoughtful meditation on happiness and truth. It shook and upset me; I walked from the screening, surrounded by the sort of spectacular natural vista the protagonist would have relished, in glum silence, not wanting to talk to anyone. Days later, I am grateful for the film.

One could lodge a number of legitimate-seeming complaints against Christopher J. McCandless (Emile Hirsch), the hero of the story. If nothing else, he is rather pretentious — it’s not enough that he renounces all his possessions, donates his life savings to charity, and sets off on a life of a penniless traveler (he names himself “Alexander Supertramp”); he has to quote Thoreau and Pasternak while he does it. He resents his parents, though perhaps for good reason, and goes to some lengths to make sure they won’t find him; he loves his sister Carine (Jena Malone) but won’t call her on his adventure to tell her everything is okay. He despises the phony, hollow, materialist trappings of civilization, convinced that truth is found on the open road, or perhaps in the Alaskan wilderness. In his conscious, aggressive rejection of human contact (mostly) and ordinary societal values (entirely), he bears some relation, I think, to Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, who also raged against — and held himself above — the “phonies” in his path while dreaming of a purer, more connected existence.

The difference between Christopher, with whom I empathized absolutely, and Holden, whom I’ve disliked since reading The Catcher in the Rye in high school, is simple: McCandless is a good guy. Even aside from his spontaneous acts of charity, which can admittedly be viewed as self-aggrandizing (“This is my life savings; feed someone with it,” he writes on a post-it note, which goes on a cashier’s check, which goes in an envelope addressed to Oxfam), he is nice to people, and, in the best road movie tradition, genuinely connects with those he meets on his journey. Indeed, for someone who wants so desperately to leave the world we know behind and live a life of transient solitude, Christopher has a remarkable capacity for understanding others. His bonds with a lonely widower (Hal Holbrook) and a pair of aging hippies (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker) are genuine and deep — he gets them, and we think they might be starting to understand him, too.

For all that, Into the Wild doesn’t glorify McCandless — in fact, the brunt of its force comes from our (and his) realization, in the film’s final minutes, that he has made a tragic, irreversible mistake, and I don’t just mean his misguided wilderness adventure. McCandless may have been foolish to undertake his Alaskan trek without adequate planning — some have pointed out that he could have walked out of his predicament had he a decent map — but the film convincingly argues that his real misstep lay in his conception of happiness and fulfillment. This is conveyed by way of Chris’s written inscription in the margins of a book, which sounds uncinematic, but works well with the feverish, intense tone Penn sets for the movie’s last “chapter.” (The occasional “chapter” titles, which carry names like “Adolescence” and “The Gaining of Wisdom” are the only aspect of the film I found problematic.) The final shots, which continue to chill me to the bone, combine triumph and tragedy in an unforgettable way.

Penn cuts between Chris’s days living in an abandoned bus (the “Magic Bus”) he found in a national park near Fairbanks, Alaska and the hitchhiking road trip that precedes it, tying the two together with Carine’s moving, uncommonly emotional voiceover. The screenplay contains episodes without becoming episodic, if that makes sense — discrete sections of the film are dedicated to Chris’s relationship with the Hal Holbrook character, for example, or his fleeting friendship with a 16 year-old singer-songwriter (Kristen Stewart), but his journey remains intact. It’s an entrancing 140 minutes.

Emile Hirsch is a good actor who was born to play this difficult role. One of the most intensely physical actors I’ve ever seen, with extraordinary control over his body language (contrast to, say, Laura Linney, who acts with her face), he is perfect for the part of a man who finds his bliss in the great outdoors, and he gives a towering, completely unsentimental performance. Portraying this character without hysterics is an achievement on the part of both Hirsch and Penn.

I mentioned that the ending of Into the Wild contains an element of triumph, and it’s true — the film allows for a dose of forgiveness, of sunshine peeking through Alaskan clouds. But though Penn is clearly sympathetic, and works with Hirsch to make Chris McCandless likable despite his arrogant folly, he doesn’t let the guy off the hook. The reason Into the Wild is so troubling, even disturbing, is that notwithstanding the protagonist’s profound goodness, it insists on consequences for his narcissism, his naîvete, his — yes — stupidity. What he learns on his journey, and scribbles in his book shortly before the credits roll, is one of the deepest truths I know (or believe in, anyhow). If only his epiphany had come sooner.

•• Variety, Dennis Harvey: Jon Krakauer’s bestseller “Into the Wild” chronicled the real-life, way-off-grid adventures of Christopher McCandless, a middle-class college grad whose quest for “ultimate freedom” ended in 1992 with starvation in the Alaskan wilderness. It seemed natural, if challenging, screen material — and in his fourth and by far best feature turn behind the camera, Sean Penn delivers a compelling, ambitious work that will satisfy most admirers of the book. Early-fall prestige entry’s wider prospects will depend on careful momentum building from reviews and word of mouth, with repeat young-adult biz likely if it doesn’t get pushed off screens too soon.

•• TimeOut, Dave Calhoun: Rating 3/5
Penn shows an abnormal amount of sympathy for McCandless (Emile Hirsch) – think, in British terms, a literate public-schoolboy with a sneering towards the conventional; he even says, ‘I think careers are a twentieth-century invention’ – and his McCandless is a Messianic figure who pounds the open road, leaving behind nothing but goodwill whether he encounters troubled hippies (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker), hormonal teenagers (Kristen Stewart) or ‘lonely’ – McCandless’ own poisonous word, not mine – old men such as the one played very sweetly by Hal Holbrook. The story of McCandless is obviously fascinating, but Penn is so uncritical that he leaves us little room to judge for ourselves whether his subject – or, more fittingly, his muse? – is enlightened, arrogant or both.

Everything else is deftly handled: Eric Gautier’s photography is beautiful, the pace is swift, Hirsch gives a terrific performance and Penn’s script moves back and forth neatly between the past and the present, cleverly using the bridge of a voiceover from McCandless’ sister (Jena Malone) to sketch a troubled family background. More than anything, the film reminds me of a time when, aged 17, I set off for the Forest of Dean to camp out in the wild, inspired somehow by the recent death of Dennis Potter. We arrived at night, pitched camp and woke in the morning to find we were sleeping next to a busy dog-walking path. One man’s wilderness is another man’s backyard. If only Penn had kept that more in mind.

•• ComingSoon, Joshua Starnes: Rating 6/10
Giving away all his worldly goods and disappearing into the west directly after graduating Emory college, except for a few odds and ends like the copies of his favorite writers Tolstoy, Thoreau and (most importantly) Jack London, McCandless (re-christening himself 'Alexander Supertramp') is just as self-importantly pretentious as he sounds, and Emile Hirsch ("Lords of Dogtown") hits the nail solidly on the head. His McCandless is a bit of a twerp who rockets off other people's wisdom and thinks himself wise. He's got a monumental chip on his shoulder of somewhat undetermined origin – he's had an unhappy childhood that's he's extrapolated out to explain the vague problems of 'society' (the quotation marks are actually audible every time he says 'society') at large – and the confidence of youth that has convinced him he's got all the answers and everyone else is just deluding themselves, wasting their lives in mediocrity, which he seems to think is a synonym for hypocrisy. Hirsch is a talented young actor with a great deal of charisma, and he needs it all here.

The film cuts back and forth from his life in Alaska and his adventures on the road where he runs into all kinds of colorful characters, from Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker's world-weary hippies to Vince Vaughn's gregarious, life loving farmer, most of whom are more intrinsically interesting than McCandless, and it's mainly Hirsch's charm that makes that disparity largely invisible.

How well it all goes down depends on whether you commiserate with McCandless or find him hopelessly deluded. It's very, very difficult to identify with a stupid character without a good reason to and Penn is playing things very close to the vest, maybe too close. Everywhere he goes, characters try to point out the problems with the direction he's traveling in, but all the criticism just rolls off his back with a self-satisfied smile, while he explains everyone else's problems to them. Is Penn merely portraying McCandless as faithfully as possible, or does he truly believe in McCandless' goofy ideas about life? It's hard to say, particularly as there really is no context beyond McCandless himself for anything in the film, barring several overdone voiceovers – either from McCandless himself or the sister (Jena Malone) he left behind – that don't do much more than trumpet the 'truth' he has discovered. There's nothing inherently wrong in telling a story about an unlikable character, but it takes a certain kind of filmmaker to really make it work, and Penn doesn't seem like that guy.

On the other hand, "Into the Wild" is an absolutely beautiful movie to just watch, with some incredibly composed shots by cinematographer Eric Gautier. From river rapids to great wheat fields to the snowy wasteland of Alaska, it is simply stunning to look at from start to finish. It's almost tempting to suggest that the various problems can be forgiven in exchange for the vistas on display. Almost.

But I could be wrong – it could all be a repudiation of the kind of infantile attitude toward life that's on display most of the time. There's certainly enough evidence in the last third to suggest so, and with Penn being so intentionally vague, it invites the viewer to make up their own mind, and take their time doing it. Unfortunately, McCandless himself is so thoroughly annoying, I can't work up the energy to bother.

•• Cinema-Crazed, Felix Vasquez Jr.: The Good - Few people have the courage and sheer balls to rid themselves of everything they own and everything they're told is dear to them and just go out into the world and survive. In some bits, Christopher McCandless can come off as a spoiled child just looking to rebel from his parents and seek self-gratification, and in some bits Christopher can be an insightful man who really just wants to see what it's like to be a have not. And through this he discovers happiness and resourcefulness. Penn's film poses a little bit of everything in the grand tradition of films like "Five Easy Pieces," and "Harry and Tonto," in which our main character is simply another pariah in a life they simply can't belong to. And Christopher decides that he has to rid himself of the privilege, and elitism that he's had forced on him since childhood and brave life without anything to call his own. Penn's film is a near masterpiece that poses many conundrums and aching questions to the audience asking us to sit and think of what Christopher was to us.

And during that challenge, he shows us what Christopher was to him and his sister. He was just a man who didn't belong in his skin. I'm still not sure what I think of Christopher McCandless, but he certainly wasn't a fool, and Penn's portrait of the man is at once epic and simplistic, beautiful and low-key; and this is also thanks to the wonderful cinematography that paints an inviting world for the audience as we see it through Chris's eyes.

Beyond a respective ensemble cast, Emile Hirsch truly gives an excellent performance as Chris who found himself coming across all sorts of odd balls and interesting people and picked up some interesting skills along the way. Whether or not much of this is sensationalized is beyond me, but "Into the Wild" shows Chris as an individual learning only what he needed, and grabbing only what he could to get by, and always avoided the home he considered a confining trap. This is most likely Emile Hirsch's finest role since he started acting, and as Chris he's a sympathetic tragic figure who will tug at heart strings, but also divide audiences. Along the way there are some respectively great performances from folks like Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart, Jena Malone, and a wonderful climactic encounter with an older man Chris meets, played with incredible emotion by Hal Holbrook, whose performance is Oscar worthy.

The story of Chris and his journey into the wilderness and society is juxtaposed with his slow starvation and inevitable death in the frigid environment, and really doesn't hold any cushioned blows for us. While Chris explores life in the harsh world, he struggles with loneliness, survival and inevitably death all alone and confined to the walls of a bus. Along the way, as we watch Chris die, Penn and co. really harp on the absurdities of life involving fast food, odd regulations, and everything that Chris felt held him back from what he wanted and hoped to achieve. One scene in particular involves Chris' disbelief that he needed a permit and twelve year waiting list to raft down a river on his own. "Into the Wild" is thankfully not some shoddy Hollywood job, Penn insistently angles the story of Chris into a down to Earth portrayal with an outcast who died alone, and was able to see the world before he died.

The Bad - The sad fact about "Into the Wild," is that Penn is apparently a fan. He's so much of a fan of the man's life that he paints Chris as a messiah of a sorts; beware of false prophets has always been a favorite saying of mine. To believe this man was so messianic because he rid himself of materials and even transcends the film's fourth wall really is a stretch. There are almost times where Penn asks "Was he Jesus Christ? Did he have a higher power that we weren't aware of?" Then there are moments when Penn begs us to wonder if Chris was more than a man, but really it's tough to swallow. Chris touches everyone, everyone loved him, and he was in touch with his faith.

I don't doubt Chris wasn't a great guy, but to believe he's so amazing that he could talk to god is quite stressing on Penn's part to bring us into his view of this farfetched notion. In one moment Chris even looks into the camera while confessing his love to an apple; it's a scene that instantly fell flat due to its utter self-indulgence. Along the way, there's that inevitable almost obvious irony in which Chris makes a point of burning his money, and yet months later is shown taking a job to earn money and must take jobs to survive once again placing importance on money when he casts it away. The weak link in the film is Vince Vaughn who plays himself yet again; he's a fast talking, quick moving minimum wage worker who really adds nothing to the film that isn't already there.

Summing up - Penn’s film either paints Chris as a man with a messiah complex or as a messiah, I could never be sure. But "Into the Wild" is a great film in spite of it. While it does lag in some areas, it's truly an entertaining, utterly fascinating, and fantastic epic drama about a young man wondering what life is like without, after a life with too much.

•• Movieviews, Ryan Cracknell: When you embark on a true adventure you may have a goal in mind but the outcome should always carry the burden of some doubt. If there’s adventure that means that some of what lies ahead is left to chance. Sometimes chance is a beast with no mercy, a killer. Chris McCandless had an unfortunate encounter with this incarnation of chance when he set out on the ultimate adventure of living off the land in the Alaskan alpine.

Sean Penn’s thoughtful adaptation of John Krakauer’s best-seller Into the Wild reconstructs the tragedy of McCandless (Emile Hirsch) and in doing so celebrates the impact that one person can have on the world, even in a short time when circumstances are tough. Fresh out of college, McCandless, the product of an upper-middleclass upbringing, abandons his family and possessions and thumbs his way to Alaska. There he plans to live from the land, survive on instinct and find himself.

Into the Wild is a film to meditate on. It’s long, it’s not particularly fast moving but it struck me in a carnal fashion. The search for self in the confines of nature harkens back to the stories of Jack London and the early explorations of America. It touches on instinct, the call of the wild, the search for self. As comfortable as it is to sit on the couch and type on a laptop with a good rock album pulsating in the background, this same comfort creates a disconnect between man and our natural surroundings. By sitting on the couch, I’m not out for a walk in the silent woods that are all around me.

Penn constructs a tribute to nature in Into the Wild. As ferocious and unforgiving as it can be, it’s also constructed as a theater of great beauty and a backdrop for life at its simplest. The film is at its most gorgeous when the camera is simply there capturing the small moments of a deer looking for food in the snow, seagulls hovering over quiet ocean waves and a sparkling sunset. I know I often take these for granted given that I see them so often. Sometimes it takes another person’s eye to recapture the sense of nature’s magic. The powerful soundtrack from Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder deserves special mention for contributing to the film’s attitude.

For McCandless, nature was also an escape. Homely comforts weren’t the only thing troubling him. He simply wasn’t comfortable with the upper-middle class hand he was dealt and the pressures the lifestyle caused his family over the years. He had to get away and become himself rather than the suffocating construct society’s labeling system was cornering him to. So he left it all behind. He literally became a character with a fictitious name – Alexander Supertramp. Now without a past he could shape his own future.

Into the Wild is a beautiful film that takes its time. Despite its lack of action and a very loose plot, it succeeds as art. It demands an instinctive reaction that is lasting rather than a knee-jerk response. Penn and company have created something with a lasting impression that is both entertaining and enlightening. And like a true piece of art, it leads to reflection, not just about what was seen but rather one’s own perspective on life as well.

•• About Entertainment, Rebecca Murray: Rating 4,5/5 - A-
Penn filmed Into the Wild on location and the scenery is simply breathtaking. Penn convinced Eddie Vedder to contribute to the score and Vedder’s music fits the film and the gorgeous landscapes perfectly.

After watching Into the Wild it’s not hard to understand why so many people have connected with McCandless’ story. McCandless’ journey is alternately heart-wrenching, frustrating, and inspiring, and Penn’s film does justice to McCandless’ tale.

Funny guy Vince Vaughn shows up as the owner of a farm that hires on McCandless to harvest grain. This one’s more of a dramatic turn and Vaughn’s terrific in the part, as are Catherine Keener and Kristen Stewart who play fellow travelers living off the grid. But the real standout in the supporting cast is Hal Holbrook. The octogenarian delivers a heartbreaking performance as a lonely widower who enjoys Christopher’s company so much that he wants to adopt the young man to keep him from taking off for Alaska.