WALKING OUT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Andrew and Alex Smith

Stars: Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins, Bill Pullman, Alex Neustaedter.

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This tense mix of coming-of-age tale and survival thriller set in the snow-covered wilderness of Montana will remind many of the bleak and brutal but beautiful Oscar winning western The Revenant with its tough man versus nature story. However, this is nowhere near as gruelling an ordeal.

Fourteen-year old David (relative newcomer Josh Wiggins) reluctantly visits his estranged father Cal (Matt Bomer, from tv series White Collar, etc) for his annual holiday on his Montana property. They spend time bonding during a hunting trip as Cal tries to pass on his knowledge and skills to his son. Cal recounts the story of his first hunt and kill, and David seems eager to experience his first kill. But when both are injured in an accident the desperate struggle to survive the harsh elements begins. The pair begin the arduous journey to find their way back to safety, forcing David to tap into inner reserves of strength, resilience and determination he never knew he possessed.

This moving and tense drama has been adapted from the short story written by David Quammen in the 1980s. It has been adapted to the screen and directed by British born filmmaking siblings Andrew and Alex Smith (2002’s sports drama The Slaughter Rule, etc), who bring an outsider’s perspective to this uniquely American story. It explores themes of survival, male bonding rituals, complex father/son relationships, toxic masculinity, and the beauty of nature, and some of these themes have been evident in all of their previous films. The Smiths heighten the sense of tension and the ever-present dangers posed by the harsh and hostile environment. This is a fairly slim story and the use of dialogue is sparse, forcing the filmmakers to heavily rely on the visuals to drive the narrative.

Key to the drama is the tense dynamic between father and son. Cal is the macho, strong, silent outdoors type who lives off the grid, while David is the soft city kid addicted to his mobile phone, and this difference in lifestyles has further driven a gap between them. Cast largely against type, Bomer brings a tough, gruff style to his brooding and demanding Cal, but he also hints at the more compassionate nature beneath the surface. Wiggins delivers a more nuanced performance as the uncertain David who is seeking his father’s approval. Grainy flashbacks also show us the relationship between a teenaged Cal (played by Alex Neustaedter) and his own father (Bill Pullman) who taught him how to hunt and whose own attitudes have largely shaped the man he has become. But these scenes often detract from the urgency and tension of the present-day scenes.

This is the first feature film shot by cinematographer Todd McMullen after spending years in television working on series such as Prime Suspect, The Newsroom, etc, and his stunning widescreen lensing of the harsh, desolate snow-covered landscapes enriches the drama. This is a visually gorgeous and elegiac movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen for best effect. Dutchborn cellist and composer Ernst Reijseger’s mournful, string-driven score further adds to the film’s tone. That Reijseger’s music has appeared in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man is an unintended irony.

Walking Out was shot on a small budget, but it boasts some superb visuals and production values.

★★★☆

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