Remember when people created first features and they were terrible? You know, really awfully shot and badly put together farcical movies so people can test out their skills? Why are people coming out there with this films so gorgeously put together and wonderfully compelling?
Actor Paul Dano turns his talents to directing in brooding drama Wildlife and it shows that he has a real talent for visual film-making.
Based on a novel by Richard Ford, Wildlife is set in 1960s Montana and follows young Joe Brinson as he deals with his parent’s marriage. As his father Jerry decides to leave to battle a forest fire which is sweeping across the country. With her husband gone, Joe’s mother Jeanette starts to overanalyse herself and begins to fall in love with another man.
Wildlife is one of the most perfectly shot films you’ll ever see. Dano has a beautiful eye for the 1960s period with soft beige hues and historical colouring. Light that hits falling snow, achingly beautiful hues of orange mixed with ash, and just an incredible capture of this period drama. It is almost haunting.
It’s also wonderful Carey Mulligan is wonderfully charged with crafting most of the rage here and she is glorious. There is a bite to her character who can be quite vicious and it’s impressive to see someone so fully-realised in this manner. She coaxing empathy from her character despite the things she does and says. That’s down to the impressive acting from Mulligan and writing by Dano and co-writer Zoe Kazan.
Jake Gyllenhaal is serverly underused here and disappears pretty soon into the action. Young Ed Oxenbould, the brilliantly named young actor from movies such as The Visit and Better Watch out moves into this drama with ease. He is a captivating lead to take you through the upset as a character watching his world shift and change around him.
The biggest problem with Wildlife is that the pacing doesn’t match the story or characters. There’s a lot of heat and fire here that could’ve used a quicker step. There’s a viciousness of Wildlife that is cutting and needs to have more grit. I mean, it feels really awkward to sit here and say “this film is impeccably made and the performances are perfect,” only to then follow it up with “it needs to be less perfect to be actually be a great film.”
The best way I can describe it is that there is a lot of material here that has the might of a boxing match but is treated like a soft ballet. It doesn’t quite punch the way it should.
Regardless, Wildlife is a fine first feature and shows that Paul Dano really knows the look and feel of a movie. Whilst there are issues with the sloth-like energy, there is a lot to admire here. If not for the look, then absolutely for Mulligan’s cutting performance.
Wildlife screens as part of the BFI London Film Festival