Directed by: #PaulDano
Adapted from the #RichardFord novel of the same name, Paul Dano’s accomplished directorial debut #Wildlife is brimming with passion both in front of and behind the camera. This exploration of family, growing up and the mysteries surrounding who your parents are amidst the breakdown of their marriage is one of the best from this year’s #BFILondonFilmFestival.
In 1960s Montana, the Brinsons are your everyday American family. Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) moved to Montana for Jerry to find work. Their family life is disrupted when Jerry is fired from his job at the local golf club. He quickly loses his sense of purpose and becomes frustrated with the way he is living his life, which results in him abandoning his family to fight the wildfires that are raging on the Canadian border. This betrayal from Jerry forms the catalyst for Jeanette to rebel against the typical ideals of the time about being both a woman and a mother. Joe is forced into a position of adulthood and his relationship with his mother is tested with the arrival of Jeanette’s lover Warren Miller (Bill Camp).
The Montana setting becomes synonymous with the narrative, often being framed by the camera as bleak, gloomy and oppressive. The wildfires continue to burn and consume the surrounding landscape, while tensions build to a point of eruption in the Brinson household. In her exquisite performance as Jeanette, Mulligan captures the layers to her three dimensional character which Dano and Kazan have constructed as flawed, messy, complex, and so many other traits which are both positive and negative. She is both quiet and contained at times, and angry and passionate in others. It is rare to see a woman who can be selfish, even as a mother, depicted in this way on screen. Gyllenhaal has little screen time, yet Jerry’s presence is felt deeply throughout the film. His absence becomes all the more powerful and elevates the tensions at play between Jeanette and Joe.
Dano and Kazan’s screenplay adds depth to these characters and their shared story. As an actor himself, Dano’s carefully considered direction gives his actors room to breathe. The camera lingers on them, at times prioritising reactions over filming the action taking place. By having Joe’s viewpoint as central to the narrative, the film hones in on the idea of being in awe of your parents, but not really knowing who they are. Oxenbould gives a thoughtful performance as Joe and he more than matches up to the brilliant performances from Mulligan and Gyllenhaal. Even though the viewpoint is often from the son’s point of view, Wildlife feels timely and feminist due to positioning Jeanette’s perspective as central to the narrative. The exploration of her freedom and of her defiance to gender roles of the time is truly compelling and adds another intriguing layer to the many aspects being explored in the film.
Wildlife captures complex family dynamics at play and its careful attention to detail and the formidable performances leave a profound impression. This is an exceptional debut, with Jeanette Brinson being one of Mulligan’s very best roles of her career so far. Its remarkable final image is a memorable one, with Mulligan and Gyllenhaal conveying everything between them with merely a look.
Wildlife is released in cinemas on 9th November.
Watch the official trailer for Wildlife below.