Director: Paul Dano
Cinematography: Diego Garcia
Writers: Paul Dano, Zoe Kasan, Richard Ford (novel)
Editing: Louise Ford, Matthew Hannam
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould
Hearing Paul Dano was directing a film in 2017 made a ton of sense. An actor who not only has played a wealth of diverse roles but has experience with a number of great modern directors, so him moving into directing was a no-brainer.
His debut film, “Wildlife” is a beautiful examination of a small-town American family and ultimately isolation. The entire story is shrouded in this idea, from the constant moving of this suburban family to Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) taking $1 a day to fight wildfires in the Montana forest. It’s an experience that is true-to-life, in which people often fall back on their true nature as this family comes unhinged.
The very best aspects of this film stem from the subtlety of it all. It’s not flashy in any way, and in a slow-burn family drama, it’s appropriate. That goes for Carey Mulligan (Jeanette Brinson), who is magnificent in this film. She plays her character almost perfectly, as her disdain grows throughout the story. Again, it’s subtle. Only the small nuances of her tone and the desperation in her physical appearance show the true complexities and struggles of her character. It’s brilliant work and probably her best performance to date.
Outside of that is the Diego Garcia cinematography, which is stunning in its slow-moving and still shots that capture the angst of this middle town American. Most shots are uniquely lit, but the compositions are very blank and add so much to the narrative.
However, the rest of the film is missing something. Whether it’s the lack of Jake Gyllenhaal in the script and the audience missing out on more scenes with dueling Mulligan and Gyllenhaal or how Ed Oxenbould (Joe Brinson), the stuck in the middle son, can’t match Mulligan’s emotional punch, something is missing. The film does an excellent job building on the main themes, and while the conclusion is warranted, the emotion feels produced rather than organic.
Go see it in theaters. It’s worth it to see those beautiful frames on the big screen. Paul Dano deserves a lot of praise for his directing, and this is a great starting point for someone who I believe will be one of the next great directors. Also, see it for Mulligan. She’s worth the price of admission alone