Wild

 

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The unlikely pairing of Nick Hornby and Reese Witherspoon delivers a film of surprising beauty and drama.

 
Wild
 

Considering that almost four percent of the United States is sealed under concrete, one can forget just how endless the country’s wilderness remains. Driven on a quest to find herself, Cheryl Strayed decided to become the woman that her mother had taught her to be and took it upon herself to hike the 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Based on Strayed’s memoir and adapted by Nick Hornby, the film opens with a shot of devastating mountainous beauty before cutting to the diminutive Reese Witherspoon, as Cheryl, sitting on a rocky outcrop and peeling off her socks. Then, in the next shot, she peels off the entire nail of her big toe. It’s one way to suck the viewer into a primal moment in a film that is as gripping as it is poetic, with Ms Witherspoon (who shares a producing credit with Hornby) giving it her all. She’s a compelling screen presence, and an alluring visual counterpoint to the stunning scenery she inhabits for nigh on two hours. 

 

Thanks to the skill with which the director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria, Dallas Buyers Club) balances the trekking with flashbacks of Cheryl’s past life, as well as the canny musical accompaniment (notably the intro to Simon and Garfunkel’s El Cóndor Pasa as the film’s leitmotif), Wild makes for riveting and, at times, epiphanous drama. It helps, too, that Cheryl Strayed is such an absorbing protagonist, at first depicted as a plucky, even comic figure, before the layers of her true personality are peeled away (like that stinking sock) to reveal the flawed, damaged and courageous woman underneath.

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann, W. Earl Brown, Brian Van Holt, Cliff DeYoung.

Dir Jean-Marc Vallée, Pro Reese Witherspoon, Bruna Papandrea and Bill Pohlad, Screenplay Nick Hornby, from the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, Ph Yves Bélanger, Pro Des John Paino, Ed Jean-Marc Vallée (as John Mac McMurphy) and Martin Pensa, Costumes Melissa Bruning.

Pacific Standard/River Road Entertainment-20th Century Fox.
115 mins. USA. 2014. Rel: 16 January 2015. Cert. 15.