Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan have captured brilliance with “Wildlife”

2018 has been a hell of a year for actors making their directorial debuts. Bradley Cooper is obviously getting a lot of the acclaim, but don’t sleep on Paul Dano. Along with his partner Zoe Kazan, they have adapted the Richard Ford novel Wildlife, with Dano directing. The result is something spectacular. Ever since the Sundance Film Festival, the movie has been building acclaim. Rightly so too, as this is one of 2018’s best works. Impeccably acted, brilliantly written, confidently directed, and full of quiet desperation, it’s rather magnificent. The film begins its theatrical run this week and is an absolute must see. Few works this year have been better.

For his directorial debut, Dano has chosen Ford’s novel, which provides him ample material to explore. The film is a portrait of a family, as well as a marriage, coming apart. A period piece, we see Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette Brinson (Carey Mulligan) move to a new town with their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould). They seem happy, but fractures loom in the distance. When Jerry proves unable to keep a job, he volunteers to go off and help fight a massive wildfire. Left alone, Joe struggles with more responsibility, while Jeanette earns extra money by teaching the wealthy yet lonely Warren Miller (Bill Camp) to swim. Warren has eyes for her, and as her loneliness builds, she contemplates his advances. All the while, Joe observes quietly. Dano and Kazan wrote the adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel, while Dano makes his directorial debut. Also on hand in the cast are Zoe Margaret Colletti, Darryl Cox, Mollie Milligan, and more. David Lang composes the elegant score, while Diego García provides luscious and hauntingly beautiful cinematography.

Wildlife is terrific. Lucidly captured, the little tragedies of the film are depicted with determination yet restraint by Dano and Kazan. Their screenplay is terrific, while Dano showcases some major league directing chops. If their filmmaking prowess were the only thing praiseworthy here, the flick would still be easy to recommend. Luckily, it’s not, as they also capture a never better turn from Mulligan. Watching her act here is a gift. Gyllenhaal is no slouch either. Not only is Dano able to show some devastatingly beautiful images, he proves to be an actor’s director as well. He has the goods, plain and simple.

In a perfect world, this movie would be a big time Academy Award contender. IFC Films would do right to give Wildlife a huge push. Efforts in Best Picture, Best Director (for Dano), Best Actor (for Oxenbould), Best Actress (for Mulligan), Best Supporting Actor (for Camp and Gyllenhaal), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Dano and Kazan), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. Mulligan in Actress and Adapted Screenplay for Dano and Kazan are the best bets for a citation, realistically speaking. Oscar has long gone for this sort of thing. Hopefully they at least consider it yet again. The quality is certainly there.

Going forward, Dano and Kazan seem assured of having long careers both in front of and behind the camera. Wildlife is more than proof of that. Kazan previously penned Ruby Sparks, so we already knew she was a hell of a writer, without even taking into account her plays. Both of them are deeply underrated actors. Now, Dano can join the ranks of actors who are also incredibly talented directors. He’s a true filmmaker of the highest order. I’ll be eager to see what they do next. Dano should 100% keep directing. The skill that he depicts here suggests a future worth being very excited about.

Anyone who longs for classical cinema would do well to seek out Wildlife. They don’t make them like this anymore. Except, Dano has. Along with Kazan, they built the screenplay and then he directed the hell out of it. Then, the cast, led by Mulligan, performed it with aplomb. Opening in limited release, it’s one of the class acts of 2018. Simply put, the year has seen few works better. Make it your business to see this film. Seek it out if you have to. I’ve been raving about it for months now, so you can finally see what the fuss is about. You can thank me later…

Be sure to check out Wildlife, beginning its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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