With first-time director Paul Dano at the helm, Wildlife benefits from a stand-out performance from actress Carey Mulligan.
Based on Richard Ford’s book of the same name, we view the events through the eyes of teenager Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) in Great Falls, Montana. As his parents struggle financially, Joe decides to quit the football team to work for a photographer. Meanwhile, Joe’s dad, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), decides to run out of town to fight fires some 40 miles away. He felt forced into making this decision because he lost his job at the golf club. Fighting fires may pay $1 an hour but it’s better than wasting away on the couch. This sudden decision isn’t sitting well with Jeanette (Carey Mulligan). It’s not fair to Joe either but nobody was really hiring in their small Montana town.
One can view Jeanette’s reaction as acting out. On the other hand, we can also view it as Jeanette reacting to her husband, well, leaving. The 1960s were a very different time. The larger cities not withstanding but surely this type of activity in small-town Montana would just reek of a scandal. One can assume based on the culture of the time that families were expected to stay together. With Jerry out of the fold, car dealership owner Warren Miller (Bill Camp) steps into the picture. It goes without saying that you can probably guess what happens next. After all, this is the 1960s and Jeanette takes control of her life.
We view the film through Joe’s eyes. For better or worse, it’s his reaction to the events around him are what drive the picture. While Joe’s family life may fall apart, his photography job helps keep him distracted.
While Paul Dano was no stranger to screenwriting, the actor takes a turn behind the camera for his feature directorial debut. It’s a solid directorial debut for the actor-screenwriter, who co-wrote the film with Zoe Kazan. Not many directors can say that they hit a home run on the first try but this is what Dano has done on the first try.
The star of the film is actress Carey Mulligan. The British actress delivers her best performance in years since being nominated for her role in An Education. This very phenomenal performance of a complex woman will certainly make Mulligan a contender for another Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
A stunning portrait of a family in the 1960s, Wildlife is a spectacular debut for Paul Dano behind the camera.
DIRECTOR: Paul Dano
SCREENWRITERS: Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan
CAST: Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, and Jake Gyllenhaal