Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Movie Review: Walking Out

Walking Out *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Alex Smith & Andrew J. Smith.
Written by: Alex Smith & Andrew J. Smith based on the short story by David Quammen.
Starring: Matt Bomer (Cal), Josh Wiggins (David), Bill Pullman (Clyde), Alex Neustaedter (Young Cal), Lily Gladstone (Lila).
Walking Out is a survival tale about a father and son who go hunting – and then things go wrong. You could compare the film to something like the Oscar winning The Revenant, but in a much more low-key way than that film. That doesn’t make the film any less harrowing – in fact, in some ways, that helps the film hit even harder, because it’s not as obsessed with its own importance. It is the type of film I think of when I hear that Hollywood never makes films for middle-American (the “real” America so many conservative pundits call it), because it is a film about that area - it is set in Montana – and is about the legacy of fathers and sons. It is perhaps a sly critique on gun culture – but not an overt one, and it certainly doesn’t look down on hunting culture at all. It is about respect for the wilderness, and the animals you are hunting – not about the glory of killing (the people in this movie would hate trophy hunting for example). It is in many way a quiet, subtle film – and remains so even after things go wrong.
The film stars young Josh Wiggins as David – a 14 year old kid, who lives with his mother in Texas, who once a year travels to see his father, Cal (Matt Bomer) is Montana to go on a hunt. David loves his father, and wants to connect with him, but isn’t much of a hunter. He’s okay hanging around his father’s remote cabin, and shooting at birds – but doesn’t much like the idea of heading out in the Smoky mountains for days on end to hunt moose – a certain moose in particular that Cal has been tracking for weeks. Still, Cal was 14 when he shot his first moose – which we see in a series of flashbacks, featuring a young Cal (Alex Neustaedter) and his own father, Clyde (Bill Pullman) – that will inform much of what we see throughout the film. They stalk the moose – but things go wrong, and they end up looking for a different animal that takes them off their previous route, and brings them in contact with a mother bear and her cubs. The second half of the film features David having to carry his father out of the wilderness.
The film is beautiful to look at – and remains so even after the horrific incidents of the halfway point. Director brothers Alex and Andrew J. Smith and their cinematographer Todd McMullen have a sort of reverence for the mountains, and their snow covered beauty. These are harsh, unrelenting conditions, and the film knows that well – but it never loses site of the beauty of it all.
The film is ultimately a tale of fathers and sons – and that hunting trip in which both of them become men. But in both cases – with Cal and his father, and then David with Cal – they do so in a way that their fathers never planned on. These are hunting trips the sons will remember for ever – just not in the romantic way the fathers probably thought they would.
In its way, the film is a subtle critique of gun culture – a culture in which guns are ubiquitous and have power that must be respected, but are placed in the hands of children who do not quite understand that power yet (they will). It’s not an anti-gun screed in any way – certainly not an anti-hunting one – but a subtle call for them to be treated with respect – and that goes beyond showing them where the safety is.
The movie is harrowing, yes, but it never becomes overly bleak or dark or depressing. It is in its way a quietly inspiring film, even as sad as the film gets. It’s not a film looking to blow you away with its camera work or its grimness or its violence – it works its way in in a quieter, more profound way. By the end, you may just be surprised by how much the film ultimately moves you.

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