Wildlife

The Plot:

Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) is a typical teenager in 1960. He works hard in school, tries out for the football team and loves his parents. In return, his parents transform his life into a stressful existence as their marriage falls apart.

Kent’s Take:

“Wildlife” is the directorial debut of Paul Dano and although this film has many positives, ultimately, it disappoints.

Joe is a kind, thoughtful young man who is adjusting to life in Montana as his family has just moved into town.

His father Jerry’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) stubbornness has forced them to become nomads as he jumps from job to job. When Jerry decides to leave the family to fight a nearby forest fire, Joe’s mother Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) becomes angry and frustrated at her husband’s self-centered decisions. She suddenly becomes the breadwinner and the head of the household.

As Joe’s parents react to the pressures of their lives, they make decisions that have repercussions for both their spouse and son.

Dano brings us a quiet stylish film. His use of color is outstanding and the cinematography is gorgeous and draws viewers into the asimplicity of the time period. Dano’s skilled director’s eye uses close-ups to heighten the emotion and his beautifully framed long shots draw us into the Brinsons world.

Unfortunately, this film has all the elements for success except the most important – the story. This narrative lacks drama. Although the emotions within these characters rage like the forest fire engulfing the nearby mountains, viewers see nary a spark of it. The emotional rollercoaster for this film is more of a gentle glide as Carey Mulligan’s Jeanette is the only character that pushes the narrative forward.

“Wildlife” is a beautiful film with a strong structure, but as this narrative unfolds we discover that the only thing lacking is a heart. Dano’s directorial debut may sputter, but his potential for future success burns brightly.

Lynn’s Take:

What was expected of husbands and wives in the early 1960s is examined in a sharply observed and richly textured “Wildlife.”

An adaptation of Richard Ford’s 1990 novel by co-writers Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, who are married in real life, this thoughtful film about a couple at crossroads elicits strong performances from a riveting cast.

In his directorial debut, Dano exhibits a keen eye for detail and for framing shots. He skillfully captures a bygone time and place. The western atmosphere is beautifully evoked by cinematographer Diego Garcia, whose lens also witnesses the build-up of a fragile emotional powder keg.

Carey Mulligan shows the frustrations of a complex woman hemmed in by society, yearning for a better life and wanting to prove herself as a capable “somebody.” As housewife Jeanette, she projects a wariness and weariness that resonates. She has endured a bumpy course with husband Jerry (always astute Jake Gyllenhaal), a golf pro who moves his family to a small town in Montana for work, only to lose the job.

Tired of working menial soul-sucking jobs, a frustrated Jerry goes off to fight wildfires near the Canadian border, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves. He’s trapped trying to meet the expectations of a “provider,” buckling under pressure.

In a naturally expressive performance, Ed Oxenbould plays the 14-year-old quiet, dutiful son watching his parents’ marriage unravel. It’s his point of view, and Oxenbould, a young actor from Australia so memorable in “The Visit,” shows every emotion on his face without saying much.

Through the less-than-ideal family life of the Brinsons, Dano shows how people struggle to find a sense of purpose and how society values affect ordinary people.