Into the Wild

Critics Consensus

With his sturdy cast and confident direction, Sean Penn has turned a complex work of non-fiction like Into the Wild into an accessible and poignant character study.



Total Count: 195


Audience Score

User Ratings: 179,241
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Freshly graduated from college with a promising future ahead, 22 year-old Christopher McCandless instead walked out of his privileged life and into the wild in search of adventure. What happened to him on the way transformed this young wanderer into an enduring symbol for countless people. Was Christopher McCandless a heroic adventurer or a naïve idealist, a rebellious 1990s Thoreau or another lost American son, a fearless risk-taker or a tragic figure who wrestled with the precarious balance between man and nature? McCandless' quest took him from the wheat fields of South Dakota to a renegade trip down the Colorado River to the non-conformists' refuge of Slab City, California, and beyond. Along the way, he encountered a series of colorful characters at the very edges of American society who shaped his understanding of life and whose lives he, in turn, changed. In the end, he tested himself by heading alone into the wilds of the great North, where everything he had seen and learned and felt came to a head in ways he never could have expected.

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Emile Hirsch
as Christopher McCandless
Marcia Gay Harden
as Billie McCandless
William Hurt
as Walt McCandless
Catherine Keener
as Jan Burres
Hal Holbrook
as Ron Franz
Vince Vaughn
as Wayne Westerberg
Jena Malone
as Carine McCandless
Brian Dierker
as Rainey/Marine Coordinator
Robin Mathews
as Gail Borah
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Critic Reviews for Into the Wild

All Critics (195) | Top Critics (54)

  • As [Hirsch] struggles with the elements, his increasing frailty and the cinematography's increasing grandeur mesh in a way that's at once iconic and wrenching.

    Oct 18, 2008 | Full Review…

    Bob Mondello
    Top Critic
  • Penn's main idea about going native is making eye contact with a deer.

    Feb 22, 2008 | Rating: C | Full Review…
  • The film is about people trying to live good lives and that is ultimately a serious and worthwhile subject. Into The Wild is one of the best films of the year.

    Feb 1, 2008 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • One of the best American films of the year, even if you do feel more impatient with McCandless than Penn seems to.

    Nov 9, 2007 | Rating: 4/5
  • There is food for thought and food for every kind of feeling in Sean Penn's outstanding film.

    Nov 9, 2007 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Although McCandless's story is undoubtedly fascinating, and Penn's film contains moments of magic, it is a lesser piece of work because it prefers to accept its subject at face value rather than ask a few crucial questions.

    Nov 9, 2007 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    Wendy Ide

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Into the Wild

  • Jun 26, 2016
    Fantastic realization of the novel of the same name about Christopher McCandless, who at age 22 and disillusioned by his parent's deception about his father's polygamy, abandons his comfortable upper-class life immediately upon graduating from college to explore the country largely on foot. He spends the first 2 years moving around the western states, taking various jobs and living off the land for weeks at a time. He travels down the Colorado River by kayak, and, after wandering for nearly 2 years, decides to travel to Alaska to attempt to live off the land for several months. The film is very well made, the performances, especially young Emile Hirsch, are very authentic and affecting. Backed by an incredible soundtrack of original songs by Eddie Vedder, this is a great movie about a somewhat lost soul, but someone most people can relate to at some point in their lives, who is merely searching for what he calls "truth." This film makes me question my own choices and lifestyle, which must say something about the power of this film. The end is tragic, but almost necessarily so. Would we have ever known of McCandless, aka "Alexander Supertramp," had he not perished alone in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wild? This is a compelling story that is, understandably, quite polarizing. Opinions vary greatly about Alex and his journey. One thing is undeniable - he had the courage and principles which few have at age 22 to walk into the world alone and try to discovery who he was. Sean Penn pays the proper respect to the life of one young man who, right or wrong, chose to live a certain life instead of being told what kind of life to live, particularly by those he no longer trusted or respected.
    Mark H Super Reviewer
  • Oct 19, 2015
    genuinely interesting portrayal of a young mans journey through the sub-wilderness of north america. an excellent illustration by sean penn of a truly free spirit. emile hirsch stood out more than in milk (only other thing I've seen him in) but he was the lead!
    Sanity Assassin ! Super Reviewer
  • Jan 08, 2015
    Solid movie that tells a great story. This is one of the more interesting films I've seen in my life. Its storytelling knows how to keep your attention held throughout the film. I wouldn't quite say it's "life-changing" like many people would have you believe, although I can understand how some people could see it that way. Whatever works for you I guess. The only thing that I feel really hurts this film is its lengthy duration, and its pacing, which can be poor at times. I haven't read the book, so I can't say for sure that it's the screenplay writer's fault or anything, but the pace could be far better. I also don't like how the film jumps around so much...the time difference really confuses the hell out of the viewer. Again, I haven't read the book, so I don't know how it is, but there were a few things that could've been done better here. Aside from that though, it's a very good film.
    Stephen S Super Reviewer
  • Jul 24, 2013
    "The sky was falling and streaked with blood; I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into dust, up the stairs, into the wild!" I understand it must be offputting enough for me to be referencing "Into the Fire" in the first place, considering my disdain for contemporary music and my not being the biggest fan of Bruce Springsteen...'s studio material (Interesting how Springsteen has been awesome live for years, yet it has never really occurred to him to make a studio song that's even close to as good as its live counterpart), but I feel that it fits a discussion about this film, for although that song came out long after the early 1990s, in which this film takes place, so much so that it's about 9/11, but because Sean Penn's directorial "The Indian Runner", based on Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman", was such an overwhelming commercial failure, and I'm sure Penn was hoping that his first actually successful film would be somehow associated with a Bruce Springsteen song. I could have said that a Springsteen song fits because this film is such a delightful testament to Americana, but Springsteen is as liberal as ever, and in this day and age, liberalism is more of a celebration to anything that isn't American. Oh, Bruce, you poor misguided heartland rocker, now that I think about it, you really should have considered doing the soundtrack for this film, because Eddie Vedder's songs are just kind of ripping off yours a little bit. Speaking of which, with the hair, beard and wardrobe that Emile Hirsch has in this film, he looks like he probably should be playing a '90s alternative hard rocker, though I might just be saying that because I for one am all for Eddie Vedder running away to Alaska, so that I don't have to deal with Pearl Jam for a while. Well, I reckon the songs that he did for this film are alright, though I might just be thinking that because I enjoyed most every other aspect about this film so much. That being said, I'm not exactly going "while" for this film, because its getting Eddie Vedder to contribute Americanatastic original songs rather than Bruce Springsteen is not its only questionable aspect. Even with all of the big names attached to it, as well as the strong marketing that led to commercial success, this film is a bona fide indie drama, complete with heart, thoughtfulness and, of course, storytelling laziness, at least when it comes to uniqueness, because while the final product is compelling enough for you to embrace going with it on a familiar journey, the overlong road that this film's storytelling follows has been tread upon too often for predictability to not do some damage to your investment, though perhaps not as much as this road's winding all over the place all too often. Another problem with the film is its feeling kind of underdeveloped, though not entirely from a lack of trying, just a lack of fluid structure to the attempts at exposition, which go so far as to deliver backstory information on our lead and his story, not as early as possible, but here and there throughout the body of the final product, either in the form of flashback sequences that break linear consistency rather jarringly, or in the form of a dry narration by Jena Malone, typically behind meandering filler footage which only serves as B-roll that gives the narration time to be dully mumbled out, and if that doesn't sound detrimental to focal consistency enough, the film is not much more than a series of misadventures faced by Christopher "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless that are delightful and all, but hardly connect organically enough for the focal structure of this film's narrative to not be tossed every which way with each jarring segment change, whose messiness could have perhaps been settled down a bit if this film didn't bloat itself with so much blasted material. A film like this deserves to be long and thorough, but at two minutes shy of a whopping two-and-a-half hours, this film is way too long, padding itself out with repetitious material and filler until things start to meander with a certain blandness that is potent enough on paper, and exacerbated when atmosphere is applied to the dragging. When I said that this film, as an indie drama, gets to be a bit lazy in its storytelling, I meant that it at least feels lazy under the steady directorial efforts of Sean Penn, whose thoughtfulness is often tenderly endearing, but just as often kind of bland, perhaps even rather dull. There's enough heart and color to this film to keep entertainment value sustained for the most part, but when things slow down, as they often do, they really slow down, leaving the film to wander down an uneven, overlong and familiar path with a heart that, when accompanied by storytelling sharpness, compels thorough, but not without emphasizing the flaws in this promising drama. The film is nothing if not highly ambitious, and it has the strength to fulfill such ambition enough to reward on the whole, but this drama could have been so much more, and Penn's passionate desire for excellence only stresses the areas in which he falls short, to where, before too long, it becomes utterly impossible to ignore the fact that high potential ultimately goes squandered under the weight of conventional, uneven and overlong storytelling, whose shortcomings have a history of being enough to drive potentially excellent films into all-out underwhelmingness. However, in this case, underwhelmingness does not prevail, because as often as this adventure loses its thrills, it rarely, if ever loses enough compellingness to keep you very much invested, as well as a little entertained, thanks in part to the musical aspects, at least up to a certain point. The film's soundtrack is flawed, having its repetitious bits that add to the blandness, as well as some overstylizing that doesn't really gel tonally, yet on the whole, this effort turns in plenty of decent tunes, including original ones, with Michael Brook delivering on a score that, outside of overstylized occasions, boasts a certain charming tastefulness, while Eddie Vedder taints his original alternative folk tunes with his trademark unappealingly overblown, or rather, "vibratoverblown" vocal style, but has more heart than he usually, and enough of it to provide some decent music, until the classic archived ditties enter to particularly color things up. Musically, this film is hardly impeccable, but it's moderately impressive, with visual aspects being decidedly more commendable, thanks in part to cinematography by Eric Gautier that, while not stellar, delivers on warm and inviting lighting, as well as on a certain scope that is both broad and intimate enough for you to feel immersed in this film's sense of adventure, or at least in this film's many colorful locations. On a visual level, the film is pretty memorable, not exactly having the sense of sweeping adventure that I was hoping for, but still enough cleverness to its celebrations of dynamic imagery for you to feel the progression in Christopher "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless' journey, and also be dazzled along the way, and when it comes to the substance that actually establishes this adventure, just about as much praising is due. Not much is unique about this dramatization of McClandless' story, though there's plenty of excessive material and inconsistency, thus much of the potential to this subject matter is left betrayed, but by no means obscured, as there is never any denying the thematic value, layered dramatic weight and, well, fair degree of fun to this tale about a young man's lively journey to a simpler life, which isn't to say that Sean Penn doesn't still constantly make sure that you don't forget about the compellingness of this story, at least as writer, turning in a script that, while fatty around the edges, boasts plenty of wit, as well as color to characterization which is thoughtfully handled enough to feel accessible. Inspiration is certainly with Penn when he puts his "penn" to paper (Get it?), and it's every bit as rich within Penn's direction, which feels a bit too ambitious and steady for its own good, but livens things up to a certain degree with such stylistic touches as snappy plays with Jay Cassidy's sharp editing, as well as clever filming sensibilities that compliment the tonal layers of this environment-driven opus, when its not putting its hearty meditativeness to good use by soaking up the depths of this intimate character study, especially when we come to a powerful ending. The deliberate pacing to Penn's storytelling definitely does not always work, but when it does, it draws you into this very human tale, almost as much as the acting, something that is consistently strong in this star-studded flick, whose supporting cast members deliver on plenty of charisma to help in making their colorful character memorable, while leading man Emile Hirsch carries the film in his thoroughly charismatic and convincing portrayal of a good-hearted, spirited and bright, if a tad misguided young man who will face many changes, both expected and unexpected, on a challenging adventure that will bring him the richest of insight into the depths of both humanity and the world itself. There are plenty of shortcomings to this dramatic adventure which could have been and perhaps should have been more, but for every misstep, there is a strength, some of which offer glimpses into what could have been, and most all of which go into making the final product a generally rewarding experience. When the adventure is finally done, this promising drama feels limited in originality, and is rich with focal inconsistency, excessive dragging, - made all the more glaring by atmospheric bland spells - and overambition, until it ultimately falls short of what it could have been and almost into underwhelmingness, which is ultimately battled back enough by a decent soundtrack, lovely cinematography and locations, and a worthwhile story - brought to life by clever writing, thoughtful direction and strong acting - for "Into the Wild" to stand as an often entertaining, sometimes moving and consistently compelling tribute to Christopher "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless, a spirited young man of the world. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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