Monday, September 24, 2007

Critic's Corner: Into the Wild

We've all had them.

They're the vacations that look amazing on the slickly produced resort web-sites. Step into the hotel lobby for the first time, and your pre-trip excitement gets even higher. Life seems perfect after a couple of cocktails by the pool and you're all set for a memorable trip.

But by day three or four you start inexplicably thinking about home. You know you shouldn' know it doesn't make any sense, but you can't help yourself. You're almost wishing the time away to get back to your comfortable domain.

After we hit the two hour mark of Into The Wild, the agitated rustling of popcorn boxes and cat-like stretches of people in the front row captured the general mood that it was time to pack our bags, take one last photograph and hail a cab back to the airport.

And therein lies the major flaw of this Sean Penn directed film. The previews look great and the first 15 minutes set-the-scene for something that looks like it will inevitably be an enthralling ride. But as time progresses, the film almost collapses underneath the weight of its own bulk and nearly crushes the audience in the process.

Based on a true story, Into the Wild follows the remarkable journey of Christopher McCandless who - after graduating from college - ditches his material possessions and decides to hitchhike to Alaska.

Along the way McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch) meets a series of characters who help shape his life and mold his perception of humanity as he continues his relentless trek to the Alaskan wilderness.

Some of the characters that cross paths with McCandless include a South Dakotan farmer (played by an impressive Vince Vaughn), a pair of middle-aged hippies (Brian Dierker and Catherine Keener) and a retired military man (Hal Holbrook).

But for every colorful splash of humanity, it's never easy to connect with McCandless' character - which often comes across as 2 dimensional and contrived. That's not a problem for the first hour, but by hour two it's asking the audience for a lot to stick with it and overlook the flabbiness that creeps in.

This film has a genuinely interesting story to tell - it just takes too long to share it. But if you can last the distance, you'll be rewarded with some breathtaking scenery of the American wilderness and a strangely inspirational tale of human relationships and aspirations.

Written by Hillsy

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