Film Review – ‘Wildlife’ (2018)

Dano has directed a good film and both he and Kazan have written a powerful film about family, ordinary people and how a young boy must come first between a husband and wife’s lifeless marriage


It’s admirable to see a talented actor like Paul Dano make his directorial debut. To dwell back on his memorable performances in ‘The Girl Next Door,’ ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and more notably ‘There will be Blood,’ Dano has truly evolved in the Hollywood independent limelight. It is also intriguing that he co-wrote ‘Wildlife’ with his long term partner, Zoe Kazan. Kazan is a truly talented screenwriter, from writing and starring in the unforgettable ‘Ruby Sparks’ also with Dano taking the lead. To see Kazan acting beautifully in ‘The Big Sick’ and gain further success in her writing, demonstrates true versatility that must be respected.
Now comes, ‘Wildlife’ starring Academy Award Nominee’s Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. Both actors have taken such meaty and dramatic roles over the years, that to take a husband and wife role where marriage is in turmoil, one would ponder how can this possibly go wrong? Based on the book by Richard Ford, a boy witnesses his parents’ marriage falling apart after his mother finds another man. This is far from an original premise, but there are powerful moments of empathy, bleakness and tragedy which will captivate the audience and the film will definitely gain notability for the aforementioned reasons.

Dano has simply chosen to tell the story from the point of view from the boy. Ed Oxenbould plays the fourteen year old son, Joe Brinson. The fact that he carries the most weight of the film is a huge responsibility. To witness what this boy goes through, being put in the middle, to witness his mother having an affair and to face the burden of telling his father, is a tough cross to bear. His vulnerability is transparent but tries to accentuate a tough exterior. Oxenbould plays Joe with a brave and risky choice. He keeps all his emotions calm and his aggression implosive. The audience will anticipate when his implosive emotions will be explosive eventually due to witnessing his parents’ marriage fall apart.

What is interesting is the audience will not side with either Mulligan’s Jeanette Brinson or Gyllenhaal’s Jerry Brinson. Both actors portray ordinary people perfectly that are prone to make hard decisions that will determine the outcome of their destiny. Mistakes will happen between both parties and forgiveness is on the table, but the question is, will we see this married couple move on? The audience will grasp the motives of the married couple and why those dicey decisions were made. The fact that Gyllenhaal’s Jerry must move far away from his son and wife to work and fight dangerous wildfires will test their relationship for the worse. The fact that Mulligan’s Jeanette will embark on an affair with a much older and unattractive womaniser, the audience are left with ambiguity. Is she having an affair due to neglect? Or is it due to desperation for money? Either way, the son witnessing this adultery is something that no young boy should encounter.

Paul Dano’s direction is adequate as he captures early 1960’s rural Montana effectively. The actors use a distinctive well spoken American accent; the costumes are true to the era as well as the setting of 1960’s decor. Wildlife may look low budget due to a simplistic plot, but the reality of the 1960’s era is what makes the budget look bigger than what people may assume. Overall, the film is powerful and tragic. The cinematography is very effective due to wide shots of rural Montana. Dano has directed a good film and both he and Kazan have written a powerful film about family, ordinary people and how a young boy must come first between a husband and wife’s lifeless marriage. Many would agree that good life lessons are essential in films and this is truly present in ‘Wildlife.’

Aly Lajli | [rating=4]

Drama | USA, 2018 | 15 | 9th November 2018 (UK) | Icon Film Distribution / Signature Entertainment | Dir. Paul Dano | Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Bill Camp, Ed Oxenbould