All that is great about actors who take up directing is on full display in Wildlife, the directorial debut of Paul Dano, based on Richard Ford’s book. Dano co-wrote the script with his partner and the film’s executive producer Zoe Kazan, also a thespian. In the film about a 14-year-old boy’s perspective on the dissolution of his parents marriage in 1960 Montana, the actors are given space to perform, as the camera lingers for long takes. Too often directors are concerned with shots and reverse shots so as to cut up a performance. This does not happen here.
The cast is filled with impressive performers, including an always brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal as father Jerry Brinson, a layabout who lacks the ambition to satisfy his wife, Jeanette, played by a dynamic Carey Mulligan. Meanwhile, young Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is ever observant, as cued by his reaction shots, a boy so dreading what he sees before him, he forgets to close his mouth. There’s even genuine reverence for a small moment for a terrific supporting performance by Bill Camp who savors a cigar with spectacular sagaciousness.
There’s never any need for deep focus on the part of DP Diego García who works best at a distance, depicting the family’s suburban meltdown through a glum, washed out filter that speaks to the worn out family at the heart of the story. Images are like faded Edward Hopper paintings, with everything so dreary they hardly cast shadows. In the distance, a wildfire burns, where the metaphor gets a little heavy-handed, especially when Jerry disappears from the narrative to join of crew of workmen to keep the flames at bay, but it allows for this slight poetic touch where a disembodied, familiar cough can carry all the hope a child requires to see his family reunited.
Wildlife will have its Florida premiere at Miami Film Festival’s GEMS event on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 6:45 p.m., at MDC’s Tower Theater 2. That’s the smaller theater, so it is strongly advised you buy tickets in advance. The film’s DP will be present for the premiere. His work includes Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor and the upcoming Carlos Reygadas film, Our Time. García will receive the ART OF LIGHT Award at the screening. He will also host a masterclass earlier that day, at 1 p.m., which is free for Miami Dade College students and $9 for anyone else who would like to attend. This film runs 104 minutes and will be rated PG-13 when it begins a theatrical run later this the month.
SCREENING UPDATE: Catch Wildlife at the Miami Beach Cinematheque for its Spirit of the Independents series now running through January 13, check their calendar for details.