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Wild - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
cinema_holic
cinema_holic
Wild
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Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: A
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A+



It's rare that editing is alone the determining factor in what makes a movie great, although it's a skill, and an art, that often gets ignored as a vital element of storytelling in film making. In the case of Wild, co-edited by Martin Pensa and director John MacMcMurphy (who also directed and co-edited the excellent Dallas Buyers Club), rarely has editing been done so skillfully and effectively.

This is the story of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon, in her best performance since Pleasantville), a real-life woman who walked a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail to process the loss of her beloved mother (Laura Dern). You might expect a movie about a woman walking alone through the desert and wilderness to be dull, but this is anything but -- largely because of the flashbacks to her past with her mom, but even the scenes of her walking the trail are almost curiously riveting.

One might be hard pressed to find an "Oscar clip" of Witherspoon's performance here, and yet she commands attention in every scene. She's understated in exactly the right way for this part, about a woman who loses grip of her own life in the wake of losing her mom, from reckless promiscuity to heroin use.

Cheryl meets several people along her several-month journey, putting herself in often potentially very dangerous situations. Being a young woman on her own hitchhiking is the tip of the iceberg. In one sequence, she happens upon a couple of hunters who leer at her in uncomfortable ways. Nothing truly horrifying happens to her, but she's in many situations where such a thing could easily occur. It's easy to feel frightened for her, whether Chery is on her own or encountering strange men on her journey.

Mostly though, she's alone. There's still plenty of time for other characters, as flashbacks come along at a perfectly erratic pace. This is where the superb editing comes in, presenting flashbacks in a fashion that deliberately evokes the way memory actually works. More often than not, it's just a brief flash of memory. Only every once in a while does a full scene play out. There must have been a whole lot of footage shot of Laura Dern as Cheryl's mother, most of which had to end up on the cutting room floor. But what is used works perfectly.

Mom gets sick in her mid-forties, and we learn she's given about a year to live -- but last only about a month. This is the kind of thing that would fuck anyone up, and as Cheryl tells another woman she meets on the trail, "She was the love of my life." Cheryl doesn't know how to deal, and turns to sex and drugs. She cheats on her husband excessively, to the point that their seven-year relationship must end. Miraculously, they remain friends. In an early flashback, we see them getting matching tattoos to commemorate their divorce.

A movie of this nature could easily devolve into overly sentimental claptrap, which MacMurphy skillfully avoids with his deft direction and editing. We really feel like we've gone into the mind of Cheryl, and we understand both how she winds up fucking her life up so completely, and why she chooses to use the physicality of a 1000-mile walk as a purge.

It doesn't hurt that so much of the scenery is beautiful, and beautifully shot by cinematographer Yves Bélanger, using the same natural lighting that defined Dallas Buyers Club. No matter which way you look at it, this story of a thousand-mile catharsis beautifully constructed, performed and presented.

Reese Witherspoon gives one of the best performances of her career in WILD.


Overall: A
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