In Denali With Nowhere Man
Main Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Ella Purnell
Director: Frank Hall Green
Does anyone else out there remember the TV show Nowhere Man? I’m thinking probably not – but it’s where I first came across Bruce Greenwood, and he was awesome. He’s done a whole lot of stuff (some good, some crap) since then, but I’m always nearly always willing to give his movies a try. The only thing I hate is when he plays a villain – not because he’s bad at it, I just like to see him in the hero role. So we’re in luck with Wildlike.
Wildlike is about as Indie as Indie gets these days. Greenwood is the biggest name and the filmmaker actually started a message thread on IMDb asking people not to pirate the movie since they don’t have studio bucks behind them. All cool in my book. (Quick aside – please don’t steal movies. There are so many legitimate low cost and free options available, and it’s a slap in the face of the people who invest their time, talent, and often their own money to entertain you.)
Anyway. Wildlike is the story of a teenager sent to live in Alaska with her uncle. 14-year-old Mackenzie (Ella Purnell) is being sent north from Seattle for the summer as her mother tries to get herself together after her father dies. Obviously grieving, Mackenzie is uncommunicative and unlikable. Her uncle (Brian Geraghty) seems to be trying hard to help the sullen kid…until he isn’t trying to help her. Desperate to escape, the girl runs away during a day trip, looking for some way to get herself back to Seattle. Enter Rene Bartlett (Greenwood), a hiker heading for Denali and dealing with his own grief. Through what mostly amounts to harassment, Mackenzie latches onto him as safe harbor. The movie chronicles their journey.
Yep, it sounds like really trite and well-trodden territory. And it is. So the key to success has to be in the execution, and Frank Hall Green does a lot of things right. His first score is his choice of location. Denali is stunning; the outdoor scenes must be amazing on a big screen. He uses the park as well as the overall isolated feel of the Alaskan wilderness to his benefit, resulting in our two players having time and quiet during which to bring life to their roles.
That brings me to the second success which lies in the performances, particularly by Greenwood. He’s weathered and weary, grieving and trying to find some peace but not reckless or vulnerable. He is the adult and remains the adult. He’s put in a completely untenable situation by a teenager and has to somehow deal with her, and the problems she hauls behind her. He’s terrific.
Ella Purnell isn’t bad, but her role is a little underwritten. The sullen and uncommunicative teenager gets old – fast. The character acts older than her supposed age – a common occurrence when adults write for kids – and some of her behavior is inconsistent with the situation and her established vulnerabilities. That said she does quite well with the material that is appropriate for the age of her character, and at those times her interactions with Greenwood (who is old enough to be her grandfather) and the handful of peripheral characters are very sweet. Most of the issues with her character are due to the script, not the actress.
Overall, this is an interesting film with a lot of underlying complexity. It’s a great one to watch and discuss – as you try and decide what the characters could or should have done differently their options become fewer and far more fraught with potential pitfalls than it seems on the surface. Wildlike is currently streaming on Netflix – I recommend it for anyone who likes a good indie (it gathered 43 awards at film festivals across the country), is a fan of Greenwood, or even just wants a vicarious stroll through Denali.