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Movie Review: Wildlife

Article By: Alice-Ginevra Micheli


Whenever an actor wants to foray into the world of directing, a communal breath is held. While they might be commendable in the roles they’ve played, who’s to say that their talents extend to a much more demanding and, arguably, important role? These were some thoughts that might have ran through the minds of those who invested, and expected, Paul Dano’s directorial debut, Wildlife.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan, the film is told from the point of view of Joe (Ed Oxenbould), their son, who begins to witness the breaking of his parents’ marriage set against the backdrop of 1950s small America.

The best way to describe this film is to liken it to a piece of art. Mesmerizing in the way that it’s told, the story plays out at a melancholic pace, very deliberate in each scene it portrays. While there is plenty of drama present, there isn’t any great outbursts that serve as a center piece for the film. Rather, there’s simply a lot of moments that permeate the relationships of the characters, causing small yet permanent cracks in the overall façade.

It’s a story that’s probably been told time and time again, by the children of divorced parents, and even others who have been close to a couple as they begin to break. Setting it against a 1950s backdrop removes it from the fast paced environment that society currently finds itself in, and allows the audience to focus only on the three lead roles and their own vast, yet subtle emotional turmoil.

Having been directed by an acclaimed actor, it’s no wonder that the performances delivered are up to par with some of each individual’s best work.

Gyllenhaal balances the role of a devoted, yet proud father who must find a job to support his family, while also trying to discover meaning in his repetitive life. His internal struggle is evident, as you witness him constantly have an inner battle between doing what’s best for those around him, and serving his own hopes and dreams. It’s a memorable performance from the actor, if only to see him play one of the most regular and downtrodden characters yet to surface in his career.

Mulligan on the other hand, has the showier performance on screen. Known for playing quiet, demure, good-hearted people in the past, her character this time around is refreshingly amoral. A woman who is clearly sick of playing the housewife, her frustrations begin with small memories of nostalgia, and lead to behaviours which would have been considered scandalous in its chosen era. Shifting from the nurturing mother to the independent woman, you follow her make the choice between upholding her family and striking her own path, a journey that often has her make controversial decisions that are intriguing to watch play out.

Finally as the protagonist, relative newcomer Ed Oxenbould creates a concrete base on which the audience can play witness to the events occurring onscreen. Often simply watching what is happening from the sidelines, a lot of his acting is in the small gestures and emotions that play out on his face throughout the film. Clearly a reserved young man, the film hinges on witnessing his inner turmoil only through his restrained actions, as his life slowly begins to come apart at the seams. A difficult role that would have required a tricky balance between serious and dull, Oxenbould manages to pull it off in a respectful and, in fact, impressive manner.

In long, while small in its scale, this is a film that, as it’s played out, is clearly done so by a deliberate and artistic hand. Bathed in a constant, almost sepia tone to match with the era in which it’s set, the happenings within fit not just the mood but also the atmosphere, coming together almost flawlessly in its cohesiveness. Seemingly mundane in the way it’s told, it only enhances the personal drama, letting the audience in on the fact that sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a person is too small for the rest of the world to notice. It’s a film that proliferates its message and then emphasizes it, going against a common phrase and twisting it, stating that sometimes the biggest tragedies happen not with a bang, but with a fizzle.

If the audience goes in based off the names at the top of the board, expecting something exciting, they might walk out disappointed by how minimalistic the film is. This is a quiet tale, told from the perspective of a young man, and in the realistic manner in which he witnesses his own heartbreak. With that there isn’t a need for giant moments or exciting outbursts, and therefore focuses more on the idea of character than on making the experience an event in and of itself.

Wildlife is art for the cinema. Quiet in its nature and tragic in its melancholy, it’s recommended for those who want to witness the directorial debut by an actor who is working the notion that the most important aspect of film is the characters and their inner most nature.


MG Rating: 8/10 

Alice Ginevra Micheli
Her love of film, novels and all things media led her to study Screen and Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne. Fascinated with the culture of entertainment today she keeps up to date on all the news and going-ons within the industry. When not traversing the internet and cinemas, she spends her time catching up on whatever TV or book series she's currently obsessed with.