by Tony Medley
Runtime 110 minutes.
Not for children.
Prospectively, watching Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed take a hike
of 1,000 miles in the wilderness sounds like a daunting sit. But this is
a film that captivated me from the start and never let up.
Unfortunately, there is some nudity, sex scenes, and drug use, so it’s
not acceptable for children. I say “unfortunately” because this would be
a wonderful film with a fine moral for children to see. But since it’s a
true story based on Cheryl Strayed’s
bestselling biographical book about her extraordinary adventure, the
nudity, sex scenes, and drugs are essential and they help to make it the
fine film it is.
Created by an award-rich group including director
Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club),
Academy Award® winner Witherspoon (Walk the Line) and
screenwriter Nick Hornby (nominated for An Education) that brings
Strayed’s captivating story to the screen, Witherspoon gives the
best performance of her career, by far. I would put her on the list for
another Best Actress Oscar®.
Strayed’s story includes reckless sexual behavior that destroyed her
marriage, heroin use, and the premature death of her mother (Laura Dern,
who also gives a fine performance). Witherspoon and
Vallée capture Strayed’s flawed life
truthfully and without equivocation.
But this is not a dark tale. Rather, it’s an inspiring story as Cheryl
faces her problems by walking away from them, embarking on a 1,000 mile
hike of the Pacific Crest Trail that leads from the Mojave Desert in
California to the Pacific Northwest. She starts out totally alone and
that’s the way she walked, even though she meets people along the way.
It’s an astonishingly brave way to face the world, a solitary woman in
the middle of the wilderness.
Shot with flash-backs and flash-forwards, the film tells the story by
keeping the reason for Cheryl’s being so messed up from the audience for
almost the entire movie.
As wonderful as the story is, however, the Pacific Crest Trail is as
much a character as Cheryl and the others. The film was shot on the
trail in the Mojave and in Oregon. Some of the vistas are breathtaking.
Yves Bélanger used only hand held cameras with no lighting, tripods,
dollies, or cranes. It was all shot on location on the trail with
available light. In fact, although there are lots of flashbacks to
Cheryl’s life back home, 2/3 of the film takes place on the trail. The
result is some spectacular scenery and very realistic shots of Cheryl as
December 4, 2014