Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp
Don’t be fooled by the title; this is one of the most cool, calm and collected films you’ll see this year. And that wonderful composure also belies the fact the film is a directorial debut, and an indie one at that. Wildlife is the first feature from actor Paul Dano – best known for his performances in Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood – who wrote the script with Zoe Kazan, co-star of The Big Sick (who has been dating Dano since 2007).
It's an incredibly assured piece of work and hardly a shot is wasted but, being an adaptation of a Richard Ford novel, there’s plenty of devastation lurking just under the surface of that elegant, economical style. In the spotlight are the Brinsons, the Getty Images model of the wholesome nuclear family. But, just like the uncontrollable forest fire raging in the mountains overlooking the small town they call home, there is trouble on the horizon.
When Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) is fired from the local golf course for being too personable, he makes the wild decision to join the firefighters – a poorly paid job which means being away for months – setting his wife, Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), the conundrum of how to support the family. She resolves, given her job prospects, to seek out a man to replace Jerry, and finds a poor, yet wealthy, substitute in local car dealer, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), whose plain living masks a minor fortune as well as certain irresponsibility.
Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal shine in Wildlife, and newcomer Ed Oxenbould unveils the film's real heart of darkness
Mulligan’s performance is superb. As in last year's Mudbound, she is utterly convincing as this young mother blessed with a can-do attitude that verges on callousness and whose confidence slowly unravels as she attempts to turn back the hands of time. Bearing witness to her increasingly inscrutable and erratic behaviour is her son, Joe (Ed Oxenbould), a bookish teenager who is just the sort of role you can imagine Dano playing himself 10 years or so ago. He wears the expression of quiet alarm of someone having to take in much more than they can compute.
His performance also unveils the film’s real heart of darkness: the sense of silence which makes it so subtly disturbing. The score for Wildlife is sparse – just a few questioning minimalist wisps. Making himself scarce, too, yet making his presence felt, is Gyllenhaal who builds on a reputation already bolstered by his outstanding performance in last year’s Stronger. Whenever Joe has to fill his shoes or Warren Miller oversteps the mark, we feel as though Jerry is looking over our shoulder.
One aspect which could leave you wanting is Joe’s experience working as family photographer, a job he takes up to support the family. The film’s steady, tightly focused camerawork is suggestive of photography but it could benefit from being developed in the story itself. The sideshow does, though, prepare for a killer final shot as the Brinsons pose for a family portrait – an image which has been nipped away at with muted distress and reticence, and a touch of the reckless indifference of the surrounding wildlife.
|What||Wildlife film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
09 Nov 18 – 09 Nov 19, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information|