If Paul Dano were to metamorphoses in a Franz Kafka style and instead of becoming a beetle become a celluloid or digital film, Wildlife would be it. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, I adore Paul Dano, he is the reason I have watched War and Peace many, many, many times. It’s simply that Wildlife is SO much a extension of the actor, gentle, intelligent and studied, it is an accomplished first feature from the talented actor. Set in the 1950s, with painstaking attention to detail, Wildlife is a quiet, heart wrenching study of the married life of the Brinsons though the, sometimes judgemental eyes, of Joe, their teenage son.
Jeanette and Jerry Brinson are a young married couple recently moved to Montana where Jerry is working at a golf club. At first glance we see a loving couple, affectionate and hardworking but bubbling away under the surface we can feel something isn’t right. A frustrated, talented golfer Jerry friendliness with some of the guests go down the wring way and he is fired. Jeanette is entirely supportive and through the eyes of Joe we think everything will be alright. Until we start to realise the false naivety of that view and that nothing is going to be the same ever again.
Dano has created a film all about the acting. Gylenhaal is great with narcissistic and childlike Jerry, imbuing him with just enough charm so we don’t hate him. Mulligan is terrific as broken Jeanette, at times I almost had to look away from her stark portrayal of a desperate woman whose life is sliding away from her. It is a twitchy, brave performance and one of her career best. But it is Oxenbould who is the irresistible force. The young Australian actor is reminiscent in many ways of Dano and can show myriad emotions from a single look. It is a stunning heart-breaking performance. Must also mention the always wonderful Bill Camp.
The film is beautifully shot by Diego Garcia and Dano has a great eye for lingering interesting segue shots and Dano and partner Zoe Kazan adapted Richard Ford’s novel into a meaningful and affecting piece of filmmaking. It is a slow and quiet film Wildlife but you know what they say about still waters. I found my thoughts returning to it a long time after the screening ended. Wildlife is showing us the end of the American Dream, we see gender roles being slowly challenged but within all this Dano make sure it is the family who are front and centre, the characters performances are everything here, and the film is beautiful study for it. One of the best dramas of the year can’t wait to see what Dano does next.