This is a review of “Wildlife,” a new film directed by Paul Dano and featuring Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and more.
Wildlife is a not a complex story, but it is engaging in a way that is unexpected and ultimately so subtle it is undetectable. It is Paul Dano’s debut as a director and his study on a simple roving family is interesting only due to Carey Mulligan’s stunning performance as a doting mother and woman. Her engaging Oscar-worthy performance is so good that this movie is essentially a matter of waiting for scenes in which Mulligan appears. Indeed, the performances and paces of the other stories- a needlessly complex yet almost totally absent father (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) as well as son who isn’t particularly interesting. Think of the son as a sponge in more ways than one. These characters and performances are dull and pitiful relative to Mulligan’s rich, lively, and explosive energy- her expressions, are ways of speech- they are so real and strangely relatable. She is color in the otherwise gray movie.
Believe it or not, there is a story here. Based on a book, Wildlife is a tale of a father losing a job and going to fight fires in the Montana wilderness. The mother is a stay-at-home mother turned worker engaging in an affair with a powerful businessman in town. However, her relationship with this man isn’t all that it seems. Everything converges toward the end of the film in which the mother is caught with the new man by the father- who reacts negatively. The son stands idly by, although he showed significant growth in his father’s absence. His loyalty to his father seemed like a potentially potent element in the film, but only enters the scene incidentally. It’s a shame, as the son could have had a far more engaging story.
On the whole, Wildlife is Carey’s film, as they mentioned in the MoMA Contenders Q&A after the screening. She simply carries it all, and serves real energy and seemed to truly engage with her character on a primal level.
Jake Gyllenhaal offers a supporting role but it ultimately falls flat, or is caught up in the extensive details that Dano considered in constructing the 50’s timeframe.
In theaters now.