Wild ★★★★

Reece Witherspoon wears no makeup in Wild, a new film based on the autobiographical novel by Cheryl Strayed and adapted by novelist Nick Hornby. Her performance is pointedly unglamorous, in fact, yet she's never looked more beautiful.

In the film she's decided to hike a thousand miles across the Pacific Crest Trail for reasons which aren't clear at first. We sense that this pilgrimage is not to fulfil some daredevil sense of adventure, but that it's more an act of desperation.

As she progresses through the unforgiving arid terrain, she reflects upon the events that led to this self-imposed exile. At first they're brief and discordant images; her mother dancing loosely in the kitchen, a hand unzipping her dress, a man's frustrated glare over the steering wheel, but slowly these snatches take shape and speak of a traumatic past that influenced her to make catastrophic decisions. She's become somebody she's not. Like most traveling movies, this is not about escaping but about returning.

Laura Dern and Reece Witherspoon have both been Oscar-nominated for their performances. Director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer's Club) uses the panoramic landscape of his story to create a stirring and personal film that is effortlessly touching. It's a meditative experience that won't appeal to the impatient viewer. It's also beautifully written and wonderfully sincere. Easily Witherspoon's finest achievement, everything about Wild seems to be staring back at us with a warm, retiring expression.

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