Film Review: Wildlife

Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife is an accomplished drama, driven in large part by Carey Mulligan’s central performance. 

When his father loses his job, teenager Joe’s happy family life starts to unravel. With his father out of work, Joe’s mother starts to worry about the family finances…

Set in Montana in 1960, Wildlife is a drama about family issues. The setting works well in provide context as to why the characters act in certain ways. The opening gambit seems to play into this, with Dano building a picture of the nuclear family through the eyes of teenage son Joe. This image, of course, is quickly dispelled. What comes next is a deconstruction of this perfect family. This occurs over the duration of the film, slowly building to the climax. A confrontation occurs, yet the pressure that is building does not get diffused. 

Most of the action is scene through the eyes of Joe. In fact there are few scenes in which he does not feature. Dano situates viewers with the teenager as his parents’ marriage crumbles. It is difficult not to sympathise with Joe as he is helpless in an antagonising situation. It seems that Joe will finally confront or explode, yet his reaction is muted. Dano keeps this in tone with the rest of the film. 

Dano’s directing is subtle; there is no showboating here. He uses the location well to convey the isolation felt by Joe. Music is also used effectively in Wildlife. Carey Mulligan delivers a compelling performance; she is excellent as the mother undergoing a crisis. Ed Oxenbould performs well as Joe, as does Jake Gyllenhaal in a supporting role. 

Paul Dano has delivered a solid drama with Wildlife. By no means groundbreaking, yet the film’s elements come together well. 

Wildlife is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

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