Review: Paul Dano’s directorial debut ‘Wildlife’ is an instant classic

Wildlife focuses on a struggling family in 1960 and is mainly from the perspective of the 14-year-old son, Joe, played by Australian actor, Ed Oxenbould. At the post-screening Q&A with the director, Paul Dano admits that he only shot in digital because he was worried they’d have to do a lot of takes with a young actor. Turns out, Oxenbould was quite perfect from the first take. I would not have guessed digital as the color and tone was quite rich and retro.

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With no previews, the film started and I was instantly struck by how the camera didn’t move with the action and often dialogue took place off-screen. The film begins with mother, father, and son in the same shot at the kitchen table and slowly erodes throughout the film to only show close-ups with the characters, rarely showing them together. Once you see it, it becomes so obvious. Art imitating life. It’s brilliant.

Carey Mulligan is somehow old and young, frustrating and empathetic. It’s mind-boggling that she’s old enough to have a 14-year-old. Her character does the most outlandish things yet the audience somehow forgives her. While he doesn’t have as many scenes as Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal gives a desperate and hopeful performance as the father. However, the most expressive and stoic performance comes from the young Ed Oxenbould.

After this tragic yep hopeful film, Film Comment put on a free talk with writer/director Paul Dano and the author of the novel on which it was based, Richard Ford. It’s a very interesting talk, as you discover that Richard Ford did not want Paul Dano to make a scene-for-scene recreation of his novel, he wanted him to take inspiration and make it his own.

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About Melissa Hanson

Melissa Hanson aka Dial M For Melissa - Managing Editor / Podcast Producer - Growing up, Melissa’s favorite destination was always the video store and would agonize over whether to watch something new or to rewatch a favorite. Things have not changed. Follow on Twitter @DialMForMelissa

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