Arguably one of the most underrated actors out there, Paul Dano brings his directorial debut to LFF, also competing in the First Feature category. Known for choosing diverse and interesting roles, Dano equally brings a unique perspective to the family drama in the exceptionally beautiful Wildlife.
Initially painting the picture of idyllic family life, Wildlife is a slow burning film that gradually and carefully peels back the layers as the cracks begin to show, and the initial muted pastel colour palette eventually giving way to something richer and darker alongside this.
We view the story through the eyes of teenager Joe (exceptionally played by relative newcomer Ed Oxenbould), as his mother Jeanette (Mulligan) and Jerry (Gyllenhaal) start to drift apart from each other. This is a bold and deliberate move on Dano’s part to tell the story in this way, and indeed it is the innocence of Joe that helps make this story so captivating. Both Jeanette and Jerry visibly change throughout the course of the film, and when viewed through Joe’s eyes, we see his subtle change as well as he grows and becomes self-sufficient.
Wildlife is a devastating portrait of a fractured family unit, and the exquisitely crafted characters are written and played with such a richness. Mulligan, in particular, is absolutely sensational. There is a wonderful subtlety to her reactions, and indeed across all of the performances in this film, it is perhaps the silence and the moments of lingering pause that speak louder than anything else. It is so much a film about the things left unsaid, and there is a beautiful quietness to the writing of Dano and Zoe Kazan, and Dano’s tender direction.
This is an accomplished debut from Dano, and it takes great boldness and courage to keep things this paired back and simple, whilst still showing a great eye and visual flair. Wildlife is quietly devastating, tonally melancholic and truly beautiful in its depiction of brokenness. The directorial career of Paul Dano will undoubtedly be watched with as much interest as his acting career following this.