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“Wildlife” is a movie based on a Richard Ford novel about a couple’s disintegrating marriage as seen from their 14-year-old son’s perspective.

Joe Brinson is confused about what he’s witnessing and about the fact that his world is spinning out of control.

He’s not as confused as his father, who has decided that he’s going to fight a raging wildfire and leave his wife and son for months.

Joe is certainly not as confused as his restless mother, who reacts by throwing herself at another man, even in his presence, and then berating the child for watching.

It’s as though these once-sensible people are acting more like animals with their urges — like wildlife — because they are not acting like civilized people.

The story is set in 1960 Great Falls, Montana, but the movie was largely filmed in Enid, and it makes great use of the city’s natural wonders, its older neighborhoods for period filming and some swell cars and architecture.

When you see mountains in the movie, that’s from a little filming in Montana.

But the real mountain in “Wildlife” is the one viewers may face in paying attention, despite the presence of major stars like Jake Gyllenhaal (“Prisoners”) as the father and Carey Mulligan (“Mudbound”) as the mother.

This is a movie that delights in confusion and in not giving its viewers enough of a reason to stay interested in that murkiness of its very unlikable characters.

Acclaimed actor Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”) makes his directing debut here, and he seems to revel in the confusion when he’s not focused on his many close-ups of his young star Ed Oxenbould (“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”).

Dano goes in close on Oxenbould repeatedly as he voyeuristically watches people from a distance, like seeing his father, the golf pro, talking with his boss as he’s being fired, and monitoring their body language.

Like watching his mother and father argue, as we watch a pair of people who are restless and aimless at the same time, a painful combination.

Joe knows he and his parents don’t resemble the perfectly framed families he takes pictures of at his after-school job at a portrait studio.

It seems likely that the mother and father are on the verge of a nervous breakdown and never moreso than when she invites her son to accompany her on a date with the “other man” and practically invites him to watch them, ahem, get affectionate.

I understand that Mulligan’s character is seriously constrained, both in this relationship as the woman who’s abandoned and in this era, but if there was intended to be a women’s liberation message in these actions, it was lost on me.

Mulligan and Gyllenhaal (more of a supporting role) are very good at bringing these desperately unhappy people to life, but that doesn’t help if you dislike the characters to this degree.

I really enjoyed watching “Wildlife” with a sensibility of, “Oh look at Enid, the people who live there are going to enjoy seeing their city on the big screen.”

That was my focus in the opening scenes, and it became my focus again when looking at Enid made more sense than what was on the screen.

Michael Smith


Twitter: @michaelsmithTW

This article originally ran on


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