From the director of the excellent Dallas Buyer’s Club comes Wild, a film based on the real life hike (1,100 mile real life hike) of Cheryl Strayed along the Pacific Crest Trail. An amazing journey of resilience, especially as she walked it mostly alone.
The film’s opening is an interesting one. It introduces Cheryl at her lowest point of the hike, pulling an old nail out of her big toes with a guttural scream. And then promptly losing her boot over the side of a ravine. In anger she hurls the other boot after it, leaving herself stood on a rocky path with an injured foot and no boots. Not the strongest position to be in. From here the story is told in a non linear format, often jumping around between the actual hike and the series of events that led Cheryl to undertake this monstrous walk, and how she came to be stood up a mountain with no boots.
Wild is one of the most frustrating films to hit screens in a long time. The sequences that take place on the hike are excellent. The struggle feels real, Witherspoon swears, she scrambles,she gets covered in filth. Every step seems like it may be her last. She comes into contact with a variety of compelling characters whether that may be kindly strangers happy to lend a hand or parasitic creeps introducing a very real terror onto the screen. I’m not kidding — there’s a scene with two hunters later on that is one of the most simplistic yet heart chilling things seen on screen in recent memory. And yet what follows not too far after is a beautiful moment that brings you close to tears. It’s a real rollercoaster of emotions, mirroring what Cheryl herself must have been feeling along every single one of those 1,100 miles.
The problem comes however when the film goes back in time to explain what led Cheryl on this hike. It’s difficult to discuss without wandering too much into spoiler territory but something happens that sends Cheryl into a spiral of despair. She becomes entrenched in a life of casual, unprotected adultery, hard drug use and snarkiness.
And I just don’t believe a second of it.
In a film where Witherspoon gives the performance of her career she is put in the strange position of being completely unbelievable as this ‘bad girl’. It’s like she is playing two separate characters, one which she executes with razor sharp perfection, the other not so much.
It doesn’t really affect your enjoyment of the film in any way but it’s certainly jarring and you find yourself physically grimacing every time you leave the hiking Cheryl to catch up with heroin addict Cheryl. The problem is that because the whole set up and reason for the hike just isn’t very believable , pretty soon the empathy starts to fade bit by bit with each flashback.
Wild is a fascinating look into the value of perseverance, self reliance and overwhelming internal fortitude. It’s a little inconsistent at times but still well worth a watch, just to see Reece Witherspoon’ performance across the trail.