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Wild (9/10)

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. Cinematographer 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 she’s walking.

December 4, 2014