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Capone Ventures INTO THE WILD!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I really love this film, and I’m pleased to sense the momentum that it’s building as people get a chance to see it. I’m getting a ton of mail from readers who have seen it and fallen in love with it, and it’s garnering some endorsements from mainstream middle-brow pundits like Oprah, which should inspire a broad audience to check it out. At least, I hope so. Here’s Capone with his take on the film, which opened in limited release last week, and which continues to roll out this weekend:

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. The latest film directed by Sean Penn (his fourth feature, and his first since 2001's little-seen THE PLEDGE) might be one of the most difficult I'll have to review all year, so let me get a couple of things out of the way right up front. I liked INTO THE WILD, based on the investigative biography Jon Krakauer, and I am recommending it with a few reservations. It doesn't take us long to figure out that the true-life story of Christopher McCandless (played here by the exceptional Emile Hirsch, who has never been better) is one that Penn has been dying to tell for years. If you've ever read an interview with Penn that has gotten into his habits of inhabiting seedy bars in the middle of nowhere or traveling to parts unknown in the hopes that he'll bring home a good story or two, then you know that Chris was a young man whose life and attitudes about responsibility and self-awareness probably run parallel to Penn's beliefs. In the early '90s, Chris graduated from Emory University. His parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) have essentially mapped out his future for his post-graduate life. Finding this somehow wrong, Chris (who renames himself Alexander Supertramp) cashes out his saving account of $24,000, gives away his possessions and sets out on a hitchhiking journey across the country, ultimately landing himself in the forests of Alaska. (INTO THE WILD is told in flashback as Chris reflects on how he got to this point, while he struggles to stay warm and fed.) As most fine road movies go, the bulk of the film has us following Chris on his journey, meeting interesting, mostly kind strangers who find the personable young man quite charming and worthy of mothering and/or friendship. For those of you who read my review a couple weeks back of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, you may remember that I have an aversion to hippies of all shapes, sizes and smells. So it would be safe to assume that Chris's seemingly aimless wanderings would annoy me. The big reason I was intrigued by his story is that he wasn't really pushing an ideal on those with whom he crossed paths. Sure, there is the occasional statement about materialism or the beauty of nature or being "free," but most times, Chris just is happy to meet a new and interesting person. He seems as likely be befriend a pair of middle-aged hippies (Brian Dierker and the lovely Catherine Keener) as he is a fast-talking farmer (Vince Vaughn) or a sexy folk singer (Kristen Stewart). By far the most interesting person Chris connects with (and lives with for a time) is an old Army widower played by Hal Holbrook. If the brief time they spend together on screen is any indication, I could have easily watched an entire movie of just these two sharing and talking. Holbrook could be playing himself here, dishing out sage advice to Hirsch, an actor officially coming into his own with INTO THE WILD, with direction from Penn, another actor who has clearly become a major influence on an entire generation of actors. But the perfectly cast characters are only part of what makes the film so compelling. First there is Penn's visual style, which goes beyond simply shooting his actors and then shooting the pristine Alaskan landscape and vibrant wildlife. I'm not the first one to draw this comparison in writing, but Penn's treatment of the environment reminded me a great deal of how Terrence Malick shoots. And much like Malick, there's a slight distancing between Penn and his subject. As much as Penn clearly admires what he did, he doesn't pass judgment on his actions. There are many who believe that Chris was an idiot for doing what he did, and the thought has certainly crossed my mind every other day since I saw this movie. But what is the more courageous deed, taking on more responsibility or leaving everything, every comfort behind to fend for yourself in the world? I still don't know the answer. The icing on this particular brand of cake, however, was Eddie Vedder's simple and moving collection of songs that act as INTO THE WILD's score. In many ways, Vedder and Penn seemed destined to work together (I guess technically they have, since Eddie contributed songs to the DEAD MAN WALKING soundtrack), but I can't remember a time in the last 10 years when a film/music collaboration that fit together so effortlessly. I will almost certainly see INTO THE WILD once more in theater. I think I need to, to see if the things that moved me so severely the first time around still do. I don't think I could ever do the things Chris McCandless did, and I'm OK with that. But that doesn't stop me from admiring his life, and adoring this film about him. Penn relishes in his subject's imperfections, and accordingly, I loved INTO THE WILD as much for its flaws as I do for what works so beautifully. Capone
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