Ansen Reviews 'Into the Wild'

How you respond to Sean Penn's vital, lyrical, unsettling adaptation of Jon Krakauer's nonfiction book—whether you find the idealistic Christopher McCandless's (Emile Hirsch) search for freedom exemplary or self-indulgent (or somewhere in between)—will depend on your own history. McCandless gave up all his worldly possessions, changed his name to Alexander Supertramp and began a solitary cross-country odyssey that ended in wintry Alaska. Penn's eye for landscapes is stunning, and his affection for outsider lifestyles is tangible. Hirsch, who carries the film on his increasingly emaciated shoulders, performs heroically, but there's an edge missing. The ideal casting would have been the young Sean Penn.

Wes Anderson ("The Royal Tenenbaums") transports his arch, pristine, melancholic sensibility to India, where three estranged brothers meet after their father's death and hop a train in a quixotic attempt to heal their spiritual wounds. The oldest is the bossy, gung-ho Francis (Owen Wilson), his face swathed in bandages after a motorcycle crash. The suave and shifty middle brother, Peter (Adrien Brody), is terrified of fatherhood. The well-dressed but barefoot writer Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is obsessed with his ex-girlfriend. A return to form after the flat "Life Aquatic," "Darjeeling" has a lightweight, coloring-book charm that deepens and darkens after these odd, privileged ducks are thrown off the train. They seek out their elusive mother (Anjelica Huston), who has become a nun in the Himalayas. You immediately see where Francis got his bossiness— and her sons got their prodigious noses.

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