This Sean Penn movie is very much a surprise. The last film I remember him directing might have been one of the worst directing efforts I can remember. Something about Jack Nicholson getting weepy and the police force. I had almost driven it out of my mind out of respect for Penn because I think he's actually kind of cool. Yeah, he attaches himself too often to films packed with Meisner crying moments. Yet, in his "private" life he's always in the news going to some disaster area because he can and generally seems interested in helping people. That he is perceived as a fool in the right wing media for being an out of touch idealist is a crucial point to remember...
Making a film is often a therapeutic act, which is paradoxical because the process of making a film is typically dysfunctional. (I suppose the therapy is for previous events and this is what makes it addictive.) For Penn to choose this story to tell can't be an accident. The similarities between Penn and the lead real life character in Into the Wild are too close. Both are free spirits who jump right into the middle of crazy experiences and as mentioned, their actions have prompted a great deal of divisive debate. Penn's true inspiration for making the film will probably remain a mystery, perhaps even to him. But in watching the film the closeness to the main character is deep and atypical. Put another way, this isn't a Stanley Kubrick film by any stretch.
The acting in Into the Wild is real without having the sort of deep actorly moments that Penn seems drawn to as an actor. The cinematography is epic. The editing channels a long sprawling story into as focused a narrative as could be hoped for. The music by Eddy Vedder is loose and downplayed, and adds surpising depth. After leaving the theater, its hard to imagine the film without Vedder's songs. And I didn't even think I like Vedder, which makes it all the more surprising.
I can't imagine this film doing well at all at the box office, and the soundtrack for sale at Starbucks will probably make more money. Still, this has to be considered one of the better movies of the year so far. It doesn't scream Oscar bait like many films that will begin to debut as we get closer to the new year. But who knows, perhaps it will get an award or two. If so, it would add some random integrity to the Academy. I'm not sure if it would see it again, but I would listen to the soundtrack.
I thought I was done with the movie but then I saw this interview with Charlie Rose...
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