Witnessed at the 11th Dubai International Film Festival

Dubai Premiere: Cinema of the World

 

Written by Ankit Ojha

 

What to Expect

Let's take a walk, shall we?

Let’s take a walk, shall we?

Here’s something about the movies – they need to involve you, either by manipulation or by making you a pure spectator of something so thrilling you can’t let go.

Wild looked like one of the latter. And I was fairly happy about it.

Premiering across the country in the 11th Dubai International Film Festival, and helmed through it all by Dallas Buyers Club fame Jean-Marc Vallée, this definitely looked like a movie to reckon with. Additionally, Reese Witherspoon seems to be having a good year, what with The Good Lie also receiving a fairly wide positive nod.

And as I sat in for the premiere screening in the almost glitzy theatre, looking through the moving spotlights above me like I might have been high, I wondered but one teensy thing that I always do when I seem to have, at the very least, moderately high expectations of a film – would the movie betray me like some movies sometimes do?

What’s it About?

Based on Cheryl Strayed’s own memoir of the same name, Wild encompasses the arduous journey that the movie’s protagonist Strayed (reprised here by Witherspoon; Walk the Line) takes through the Pacific Crest Trail as a form of possible redemption from the rather painfully destructive life she paved before her.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Yay, camping!

Yay, camping!

We see the movie beginning with Witherspoon panting in the background. Normal? Yeah. Calm? Sure. ONE abrupt – goosebumps-inducing – emotional swerve later, however, the movie reaches such a terrific high you’re left breathless, still absorbing the raw emotion thrown upon you by the time the title card comes in.

Unfortunately, that high – that emotionally very relevant high – never comes to.

Fortunately, you’re still treated to quite the engaging storyline, where we try to piece in parts of her life as we spectate her journey – physical as well as emotional. The brilliantly engaging non-linear edit by Vallée and Martin Pensa (Dallas Buyers Club) makes use of brilliant match-cuts to transition between the present and past; between one scene and the other; between one emotional high and the other. The brilliant U-Cuts (or what I’d like to call them) used through the film, in conjunction with the almost amazing sound design, helps with the direction of trying to tap through Strayed’s rather divergent, almost polarizing, emotional strands. The most intelligent thing in the whole process of the sound design has been to mix through the voice-overs of Witherspoon to accurately encompass how we sometimes speak to ourselves in our mind. And when – almost to complete the mind’s sentence – Witherspoon utters the words, the audience will chuckle – almost because they will be able to relate to her thought process and how she’s dealing with the many things around her through the passive aggression her ever-moving thoughts exhibit. Cinematographer Yves Bélanger deftly captures the atmosphere Strayed chooses to be in. With some deft color grading, each shot is made to look like it’s there for a specific purpose. Usage of an absolutely wide depth-of-field during lensing gives a better feeling of loneliness in some rather harsh looking environments the protagonist is made to pass through. Shot dynamism allows for sudden potential dangers to heighten themselves and manipulate you to fear for her life. Production design allows for more natural, practical surroundings to breathe in, which is perfect for a movie like this.

These positives, unfortunately, come to a halt with the rather abrupt end, which, after a steady build-up, just happens. There’s a voice-over monologue attached to the end – quintessential formula, if I may – with the protagonist happy and with musings to share. That tosses the whole film’s narrative graph to a weird inconsistency that the makers could easily have avoided with other formulae (considering they were using formula anyway). Also, pre-climax, there’s this weirdly expository scene that spoon-feeds to the viewer information they’ve known through the movie’s journey anyway. You have the protagonist meeting a woman and a kid, who sings a song to Witherspoon’s Strayed – which almost immediately goes to the very predictable flashback. Pre that flashback, we’ve got a whole host of expository dialogue that could almost as easily have been done with.

To Perform or Not to Perform

"And Miles to Go Before I Sleep"

“And Miles to Go Before I Sleep”

Reese Witherspoon literally runs the movie forward. Her raw, ravaged information, and the way she deftly goes through her character graph with such well-handled emotional dexterity is just brilliant. There’s a high chance she’s got an Oscar nomination in her kitty. Laura Dern (The Fault in Our Stars) is a lovely addition and provides enough emotional context to the viewer through her performance for them to follow the film and why she’s present in it. Thomas Sadoski (television’s The Newsroom) is very good. He’s not in for much, but he stamps his presence through the film and makes you remember he’s around. There are a lot of other performances and commendable cameos peppered through, and they’re all equally good – but since they’re all almost blink-and-miss, I’m going to go with just saying they’ve all given their sincerest shot to the roles they’ve been given.

Worth it?

The movie’s unfortunately, doesn’t get where it’s expected to go. Save for the rather disappointing end and unnecessarily manipulative and expository pre-climax scene, however, the film has a lot of fairly involving moments, benefited largely by Witherspoon’s brilliant performance and the rather involving edit decision made by the film editors (both of which have a high chance of touching the Oscars, if only as nominations).

Definitely worth one watch at the very least.

Star Rating: 3.5 / 5

The movie, which had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on the 29th of August, found a limited public release on the 5th of December. Premiering in the United Arab Emirates on the 17th of December in the Dubai International Film Festival, the public release date in the country is so far unclear. The movie will find itself having a public release in the United Kingdom on the 16th of January, 2015, having already made rounds through the country in various commendable film festivals this year.