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Posted on 25 December 2014 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


In my 15 years of writing movie reviews, I’ve always felt a stronger sense of obligation to my readers during the holidays. When I reviewed Oscar potential motion pictures in the past (No Country for Old Men, Brokeback Mountain), I felt the need to warn my readers that a film might be technically good, but the effect could be “Anti- Christmas” and depressing. During the opening scene of Wild, I felt the need to warn my readers.

Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) sits upon a mountain top and removes her boots and socks. Her big toenail is falling off, so she painfully removes it. Her shoe suddenly slips and falls down the mountain. Cheryl lets loose a string of expletive derivatives and throws the other shoe down the mountain.

Within the first two minutes of Wild, you can observe the self-destructive behavior of our protagonist. The question is do we really want to spend two hours of our time watching this woman? The answer is a definitive yes!

Cheryl sets off on a quest to hike the 1000 mile Pacific Coast Trail, from California through Oregon to Washington state. The hike is mostly a solitary one, with plenty of time for Cheryl to reflect upon her relationship with her mother (Laura Dern), her exhusband (Thomas Sadoski) and heroin. Yet, with such darkness in her life, the protagonist discovers the beauty in nature, animals and finds grace in an unsuspecting way.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, Wild is a simple film about the complications of living. Cheryl’s dramatic flashbacks intrude upon the early narrative. Yet, Vallee uses these intrusions to enhance the emotional content of Cheryl’s life spiral. As the film progresses, the pace slows down, which gives Wild an epic quality. Despite the 115 minute running time, the film feels longer, but in a good way.

It has been nine years since Witherspoon’s Oscar winning performance as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. Given her recent public relations debacle with the police, Wild is a definite career redemption for Witherspoon. She provides a truthful and naked performance and she is likely to be Oscar-nominated.

Despite some beautiful cinematography, this film touches upon the darkness of one’s soul. Critics are debating that Cheryl’s odyssey is one of either self acceptance or redemption. Either philosophy, Wild is likely to be on my top 10 list next year.

Merry Christmas!

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