2007 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

The Pledge and Crossing Guard director Sean Penn steps behind the camera again to tell the far more heart-warming, if not slightly haunting true story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who ups and leaves his safe, middle-class life in order to live in the wild, free from the shackles of man and the rat race he was supposed to excel in. Emile Hirsch surpasses expectations as the wandering McCandless, supported by a stellar cast and Penn's wonderful use of Uncle Sam's windblown back yard.

Director

  • Sean Penn

Cast

  • Emile Hirsch

  • Catherine Keener

  • William Hurt

  • Jena Malone

  • Hal Holbrook

Review

Sean Penn's directorial work to date is punctuated with themes of regret, heartbreak, cynicism and revenge.

So it's something of a departure for the veteran actor to take on the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who, back in 1991, dreamed of living in the great outdoors with minimal supplies and even less company.

Little was known about the path McCandless trod until author Jon Krakauer pieced together his movements for the 1996 book on which Penn's movie is based.

For soon after leaving college, the 22-year-old began a two-year odyssey that would take him up and down the country and, eventually, see him take root in the Alaskan wilderness, a place he had long dreamed of inhabiting. Alone.

Unfortunately, McCandless hadn't quite got the express permission of his parents, whose expectations and controlling nature had played a large part in his desire to leave in the first place.

Rather than tell the story in linear fashion, Penn splits the story up, intermittently flitting between the build up to Chris's departure and the final days of his adventure.

Along the road he meets hippies, rednecks, Mexicans and a friendly, lonely old man.

Despite touching their lives, McCandless's intention was always to continue his journey alone. Rarely does he remain in any one place, allowing Penn to use dozens of locations as the backdrops to McCandless's story.

That story may be ponderous on occasion, particularly given the poetry-inspired voice over from Chris's sister, but it certainly serves to convey the character and his state of mind.

William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden perfectly capture the overpowering parents, while Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener and, most notably, Hal Holbrook, are excellent as the variety of personalities encountered by McCandless on his journey.

Hirsch, meanwhile, rightly takes the plaudits for filling McCandless's adventure boots.

With a look of wonder permanently etched on his face, Hirsch puts The Girl Next Door and Alpha Dog behind him to depict the content hobo enjoying the freedom promised so many times by the star spangled banner.

Penn's glasses may be rose-tinted - critics of McCandless described his decision to enter the Alaskan wilderness sans map and supplies as, 'idiotic' and 'suicidal' - but his devotion to McCandless's point of view is admirable, and critics of the wanderer are missing the point - at no point in his adult life did McCandless want to do anything he was told to.

Beautifully shot and perfectly acted, Into The Wild will appeal to anyone who has looked out of the office window and wondered what it'd be like to pack a bag and just start walking.