“[I] have always known I would make films about family,” 12 Years A Slave Actor Paul Dano stated earlier this year. In his directorial debut, Wildlife, this is indeed what he has done. The adaptation of Richard Ford’s 1990 novel of the same name, Wildlife is the intense narrative of one family falling apart in 1960s small-town America.
Set in Great Falls, Montana, the film revolves around the Brinsons, a struggling family who have moved all around the country in search of the next pay cheque. What begins as a searing look at domesticity in the sixties spirals into the already worn-out tale of cuckolded husband and straying wife. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Gerry is the archetypal all-American loser: the dad who pushes his son into football and who can’t keep a job. Carey Mulligan, as Jeanette, gives a performance not dissimilar to her Daisy in The Great Gatsby. An actress who seems to excel at playing selfish, bored people, she once again triumphs as her Jeanette subverts the mother and son relationship throughout the film.
I wouldn’t sacrifice Wildlife’s incredible cinematography for a shorter film
It is this son who is the film’s crowning glory. Ed Oxenbauld upstages both Gyllenhaal and Mulligan as Joe, the couple’s shy fourteen-year-old son, who is often more mature than his parents. His performance is understated yet effective, as the audience can only watch in despair as he is caught in the crossfire of the adults’ problems. It is Oxenbauld’s presence that ultimately saves the film’s narrative, shifting it to become a poignant look at the effect of parental problems on a teenager.
At 1 hour 45 minutes long, Wildlife is by no means the longest film I’ve ever seen. However, the film’s slow pacing means that this ultimately feels a touch too long. However, I wouldn’t sacrifice Wildlife’s incredible cinematography for a shorter film. The long, lingering shots of rural Montana, including one particularly compelling shot of a wildfire mean that it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time.
Despite this, the film is still just good – not great. It didn’t make me want to spend the next hour discussing it with someone, but I am glad I’ve seen it.