Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, two of the most gifted performers of their generation, lend a haunted melancholy to this evocative portrait of a crumbling marriage in 1950s Montana. Adapted from Richard Ford’s novel, Wildlife observes with acute nuance the emotional fallout that occurs for a small American family when dad Jerry (Gyllenhaal) loses his job. In a crisis of self, Jerry departs for the mountains to fight wildfires, leaving wife Jeanette (Mulligan) and son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) to fend for themselves.
Jaded by the confines of domesticity, Jeanette responds with an identity exploration of her own, trashing her 1950s homemaker image and embarking on an unsettling affair with a local bachelor. This dual metamorphosis is sensitively observed by only child Joe, whose coming of age here is rife with the volatility evoked in the film’s title. First-time helmsman Paul Dano is best known as an actor (There Will Be Blood, Love & Mercy), but judging by the virtues of this deeply affecting excavation of period mores, he’ll soon be equally revered as a director. — JF
“Supported by a script that understands Jeanette’s challenges and approaches them with rare empathy, Mulligan’s frayed performance resolves into an immensely powerful study of reinvention. It’s striking to see such a proven actress deliver what’s so clearly the best work of her career… Directing with all the confidence you might expect from someone who’s spent the last two decades living the best film school imaginable, Dano crafts an unsparing portrait that’s harsh and humane in equal measure.” — David Ehrlich, Indiewire