“Rather a hammer…than a nail.”
You’ll be hearing a lot of that phrase in the film uttered by our protagonist, Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon), as she grips her bloodied toenail with her fingers, wincing.
In the biopic Wild, a broken Strayed embarks on a lone journey along one of the longest hiking trails in the United States, the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT) in search of redemption after her mother’s (Laura Dern) death, a collapsed marriage and a dangerous descent into self-destructive behavior.
Based on the New York Times best-selling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, Wild artfully captures the intense emotions of the young Strayed on the gruelling 1,100-mile hike.
Jean-Marc Vallée, director of critically-acclaimed films such as C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005), Café de Flore (2011) and Dallas Buyers Club (2013), seems to have a penchant for emotional and transformative films. After all, the French Canadian revealed in an interview with Collider that he was originally slated to shoot Demolition after Dallas Buyers Club, but couldn’t resist snapping Wild the moment Nick Hornby’s script landed on his desk.
And while a long hike may seem like a terrible or boring documentary premise, the trials and tribulations Strayed undergoes and the people she meets all play surprising and sizeable parts in her metamorphosis.
Particularly notable were the cuts between Cheryl’s current trek and the memories of her past, a technique brought over to the big screen from the book.
In well-timed flashbacks, we saw in detail how this emotionally tried woman ended up the way she was in short fragments and trickles of information, leaving bits and pieces in mystery until much later in a big reveal.
In this regard, the directing and editing of the film really shone through, with everything on screen flowing surprisingly comfortably given the large number of flashbacks. The scenery along the PCT is visually stunning as well with more than a few gorgeous lakes, lush forests and natural structures.
But the film wouldn’t have held together without brilliant acting. Reese Witherspoon is powerfully emotive in every action, line and expression, successfully bringing out Strayed’s feelings of hope, despair, anger, longing, guilt and extreme perseverance. All this is achieved while barely interacting with other people.
It comes as no surprise then that Witherspoon has been nominated as Best Lead Actress for this year’s Oscars. A well-deserved nomination we’d say, seeing that she was filmed with zero make-up and made to carry a heavy backpack. With this 180-degree turn in roles and demands as compared to Walk the Line (2005) and This Means War (2012), Reese really has us won.
It’s easy to spot flaws in acting when most of a film involves a single person on screen, but we’ll admit: Witherspoon would give anyone (or other Oscar nominees for that matter) a run for their money.
Lastly, the story of Wild did an amazing job gripping us from beginning to end.
It’s no tragic love story or high-octane action flick. But as Strayed makes her way across scorching deserts and knee-high snow to come to terms with the demons of her past, her struggles show that sometimes, the harsh wilderness is where we’ll find ourselves – that getting away from the “normal life” of civilization might be the key to finding true peace within.
Release Date: February 5
Runtime: 115 minutes
Censorship Rating: M18
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern
Photos courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.