NOTE: For this review to work please pretend that Walk the Line never happened as I didn’t see it and forgot it existed…
As an actor you can make lots of lucrative, fun but unfulfilling films in your youth but to extend your career it helps to make the shift towards more respectable fare. Last year Jean-Marc Vallée directed Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club and took him from being the lead in mediocre romantic comedies to winning an Oscar in a single film. This year Vallée is back with Reese Witherspoon as the actor getting a career revamp, and probably an Oscar nomination, in Wild.
Based on the autobiographical novel by Cheryl Strayed, and adapted for the screen by the great Nick Hornby, Wild tells the story of Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) as she walks the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican to Canadian border. Having lost her husband following a sex and drugs downward spiral and a family crisis Cheryl decides what she needs is time to clear her head and find herself. Alongside danger, exhaustion, and pain walking this distance offers up plenty of solitude and time for reflection. As she walks Cheryl meets mostly friendly strangers and looks back on the mistakes she has made in her life so far. The further Cheryl walks the more she grows and the greater the understanding the audience gains of her character and why she felt the need to embark on this long journey.
Witherspoon is clearly looking to put a stake in the ground and mark out a new start for her career. Far away from her Legally Blonde days Wild allows her to give a complex grown up performance as a woman who is a three-dimensional human being and not a caricature. While not a subtle film there is room for Witherspoon to demonstrate scope and depth in her acting as she plays an incredibly complicated woman who has made some truly awful decisions. The role of Cheryl does not always put Witherspoon in a flattering light and requires a certain level of exposure both emotional and physical. If nothing else Wild shows a commitment to real acting rarely seen from this particular performer. The film rests on her shoulders and she bears the burden well.
Wild is a beautifully shot film with some great performances and a witty script. While not offering anything cinematically innovative it conjures up a great sense of adventure alongside a dramatic tale of loss and errors in judgement. I am an absolute sucker for any film even remotely resembling a road trip and Wild sufficed in making me wanting to strap on a bag and walk until my feet fall off. The film earns bonus points for expertly representing the almost orgasmic relief felt when taking off hiking boots after a lengthy journey.
A solid film with a tough story to tell, Wild showcases new facets to Witherspoon’s acting chops and announces her as an actor to keep your eye on even at this stage in her career.
Wild has a UK release date of 16th January 2015 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 16th of October 2014.