LFF 2018 Wildlife Review
Family drama doesn’t get any better than Wildlife. As director Paul Dano put it, after the screening of his film at the London Film Festival, which, by the way, blew the audience away: “The film should be like sushi – it looks simple but it isn’t.” His debut feature tells a story, which has become the backbone of many great films – a marriage in the process of breaking apart. Here, we get to witness it every step of the way through the eyes of a young boy. If done right, an idea like that is a win-win situation and Paul Dano simply knocks it out of the park. The lengthy applause after that powerful cut to black is a definite proof.
The performances of Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould and Bill Camp are, in a word award-worthy. It’s tough to say what is more impressive – the fact that the majority of the film is convincingly carried by such a young actor or that virtually every element of this motion picture works without a hitch. The story is simple. The two parents of a family with a young boy are struggling to find work. Mulligan and Gyllenhaal play husband and wife and Oxenbould is in the role of their kid. Everything from the editing and the cinematography to the direction and the music successfully works together to elevate these three performances.
Stunning Cinematography and A Moving Score
The film sounds and looks amazing. It is devoted to the memory of Johan Johansson and the film features a recurring piece of his. It is an engrossing, moving, powerful composition, which flawlessly encapsulates the tension and tragedy in the characters’ lives. The cinematography is excellent. About 90 percent of the film’s shots allow us to get a clear look at the faces of the characters and since those are some of the year’s best performances, we remain 100 percent invested until the credits roll.
The background scenery depicts vast mountainous landscapes and many of the shots take your breath away through color and framing. Furthermore, the plot involves an ongoing natural disaster, which adds to the picture’s visual splendor. Similarly to Cuaron’s Roma, Wildlife uses spectacular imagery and setting to decorate its drama. However, the epic scope of the images won’t impress you as much as the fact how insignificant it feels when compared to the intensity of the family’s heated relations.
Carey Mulligan practically gift-wraps her nomination and possibly – Oscar in this film. She stays quiet for most of the time even when Jake Gyllenhaal explodes against her. That restraint preserves the mystery surrounding her character as well as the audience’s empathy for her. Jeanette does things, which are understandable but it is entirely up to the individual viewer to decide whether he or she is willing to support her or condemn her. Every word of hers is a hint as to what she will do next and every expression – a clue for the upcoming drama.
Her character is not just disparate but she is also willing to break the boundaries of right and wrong. So, not only is the audience unsure whether to like or hate her; they also have no idea what she is going to do because, well, she doesn’t either. Ultimately, that puts the audience completely under Carey Mulligan’s control and she plays with our emotions every time she’s on screen. It’s like the actress is walking on the edge of a razor and because she maintains her balance and holds her own, she transforms into one herself.
Jake Gyllenhaal does a great job too, despite his more limited screen time. He is a very solid casting choice for the father, whose inner pain gradually builds up to the point of insanity. He has proved that he can take audiences by surprise and his talent for timing shines here as well. Ed Oxenbould’s role isn’t easy but he fully does justice to his character. Joe is a strong kid, who reacts to the tragedy of his family like a man. He doesn’t complain and always tries to mend the situation. Oxenbould realistically channels the fear, doubt and shock, which his character goes through, perfectly mirroring the audience’s emotions in the process. This is a difficult, double task, which the young actor pulls off spectacularly.
The Best Drama of the Year
We have all been there, listening to our parents fight, though many of us have been lucky enough not to see the whole thing collapse. Wildlife depicts one of every person’s worst fears being realized. This is a classic human tale of modern marriage, told realistically and remorselessly. The film is superbly acted, directed, written, photographed and scored. The message is one that every adult knows, but also one that will always keep taking us by surprise. Sometimes things just don’t work out and the situation is more powerful than the people who are not meant for each other. It is a universal story told from a poignant point of view and filmed by a director, who focuses all of his resources to highlight the terrific performances. Too many good choices. Too good of a film.
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