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Movie Review - "Wild"

Reese Witherspoon Stars As Cheryl Strayed In "Wild"

Movie Review -- “Wild”

Academy Award Winner Reese Witherspoon not only leads the cast of this new film, now in theaters, but is on screen during most of its running time. She plays Cheryl Strayed, a young woman who by her own account has made a mess of her life and is determined to turn things around. To accomplish this goal, she decides to hike from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the most difficult hikes imaginable -- and certainly beyond the capabilities of most novice hikers, which Cheryl certainly is.

Having just witnessed the remarkable free climb up the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park, we are accustomed to seeing great accomplishments by experienced athletes. These achievements are even more impressive when they are attempted by the untrained participant whose primary strength lies in her determination.

Reese Witherspoon’s character is not only trying to get her life on track; she is also preparing herself for a career as a writer. Her growth as a writer comes across more clearly in the book on which the film is based, but it is also suggested by the film in ways large and small. At each checkpoint along the trail, Cheryl writes something in the logbook used to keep track of hikers’ progress. Sometimes she offers a quote from a well-known writer; sometimes she writes her own thoughts. She becomes known as “the writer” to the other hikers who read her entries in the trail logs, and thus she begins to think of herself as a writer.

Beginning her hike in the early Spring, Cheryl encounters a late snowfall as she moves into the higher Sierra Mountains. This forces her to detour around the deep snow and results in her losing the trail on several occasions. She encounters other dangers -- both human and animal -- as well as harsh weather, yet her determination is evident. She also demonstrates a capacity to learn from more the experienced hikers she meets along her route.

“Wild” was directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. The script was written by Nick Hornby and Cheryl Strayed, and is based on Cheryl Strayed’s book, the full title of which is “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” Laura Dern plays Cheryl’s mother, and her character is the next most prominent figure in the film. For her role in “Wild,” Laura Dern received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

One of the many clever story-telling techniques used in this film is to begin the hike right away, telling the story of Cheryl’s childhood and pre-hike adulthood through flashbacks that are woven into the story of the hike. This approach offers the viewer much greater variety than would be the case if the hike were shown in one continuous segment.

The Cinematographer was Yves Belanger, who takes full advantage of the scenery along the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert in Southern California to the lush green vegetation of Oregon and Washington.

Anyone thinking about hiking a long stretch of the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail could learn a great deal from this film, as well as from the book on which it is based.

The film has a running time of 115 minutes and was released in December 2014.