Wild, a Remarkable Walk Into Reality (Film Review)



Remarkable, compelling and daunting the film Wild takes audiences on a trip that shows the power of the human body and the decision of one woman to face her fears. Based on the true experience taken from a book by Cheryl Strayed, the reality of it all creates a sense of acceptance much like rooting for a dark horse athlete in a race. But instead of a contestant, it’s a woman walking a thousand miles alone searching for her best self while fighting the daemons within that makes the story a winner.

The film opens with Cheryl Strayed (Reece Witherspoon) one third of the way on her hike sitting atop a high ridge with a huge overburdening backpack by her side. She takes off a shoe and grabs what’s left of one of her toenails and tosses it over the edge. Flashback to Cheryl in a hotel at the beginning of the trip where she gets a ride from a stranger to the drop-off point on the border of Mexico, the start of the Pacific Coast Trail. Cheryl will walk for the next three months taking in the 1100 miles from Mexico to Canada, a feat that very few women have accomplished. Cheryl’s only contact with her inner reality are friends Jonathan (Michael Huntsman) and Amiee (Gabby Hoffmann) that mail her rations to pick up at stops along the way.

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Stayed in Wild

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Stayed in Wild

During her trip we experience her life in flashbacks starting from her early childhood with her mother Bobbie played by Laura Dern, her failed marriage, her uncontrollable craving for sex and downfall to drugs. Director Jean-Marc Vallee presents the intimidating walk of the unwavering hiker that faces dangers, weaknesses and challenges as she forges her way across desert, woods and snow covered mountain sides. Vallee pulls back his camera to reveal the unforgiving land mixed with picturesque landscapes. Close-ups show Cheryl’s condition slowly changing with each mile yet steadfast in her pursuit to finish the nearly impossible journey by this novice cross country hiker.

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in WILD

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in WILD

Although it’s the loneliness, dangerous landscape and weather that are most of the factors creating the intimidating atmosphere for the film, the acting by Witherspoon and her support cast is the real treat. As Bobbi a woman grasping for a real life after supporting her daughter and her son Leif as a waitress following a tumultuous marriage leading to an early divorce, Dern gives a sterling performance. Her future clipped by devotion to raising her children rather than herself, Bobbi turns to getting a higher education in hopes of a life she has dreamed. But even with her goal in reach, Dern shows the determined woman facing a bigger setback. It’s a role worthy of an award nomination which she richly deserves.

Laura Dern as Bobbi in WILDWitherspoon gives her all to the film creating a naive troubled woman who lives with her sordid past recalling each of her weaknesses and troubles during her long trip. Pain and suffering are shown on Witherspoon’s face and body as she relentlessly pursues the finish line. Very few scenes are flattering to her natural beauty as she’s expected to weaken with every step. The make-up department assists the changes, she supplies the facial expressions and the costuming crew gives the hiker a downtrodden look as she prods along the never ending trails. But it’s her amazing acting in demoralizing scenes of her past where she gives into the degradation she heaps upon herself to depict the gut wrenching role of self-deprecation. She’s my odds on favorite to get a nomination for and Oscar in a female leading role.

Wild has been rated R by the MPAA for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language. The sex gets rough, nudity graphic and the drug use very realist looking.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very graphic film with a captivating story and an acting treat. (A)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin, W. Earl Brown, Mo McRae, Keene McRae
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee
Genre: Biography, Drama
MPAA Rating:  R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language
Running Time: 1 hr 55 min
Release Date: December 5, 2014
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight

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