Wildlike: Indie drama nails frontier Alaska

You’ve probably seen Bruce Greenwood in a lot of movies.

He’s one of those “Oh that guy” character actors. You know the ones. A friend will say something like “I really liked (NAME OF ACTOR) in that movie I saw last week,” to which the immediate response is almost always, “Which one is he?” Then the friend explains what movies you’ve seen the actor in and the immediate response is always “Ohhhhh, that guy.” It’s a situation that applied most often to talented veterans like Steve Buscemi before “Boardwalk Empire” or Kevin Spacey before “House of Cards.”

Bruce Greenwood is an “Oh that guy” actor.

This isn’t to slight Greenwood at all, given the quality work he’s done playing the president in both “Thirteen Days” and “National Treasure 2,” Ashley Judd’s ne’er-do-well husband in “Double Jeopardy” and as Chris Pine’s mentor in the “Star Trek” reboots.

Ohhhhh, that guy.

Exactly.

Greenwood finally gets the starring role he rightly deserves in the soon-to-be-released independent drama “Wildlike,” which has played at film festivals across the country, winning 30 best film accolades.

Set almost entirely in the beautiful expanses of Alaska, “Wildlike” follows a troubled teen named Mackenzie, played by Ella Purnell, as she hits the open road to escape her abusive uncle and make it back to Seattle, where she hopes to find her mother. Hiding from authorities she believes will send her back to her uncle, Mackenzie forges into the Alaskan wilderness, where she stumbles upon Bartlett, a gruff, grieving backpacker played by Greenwood, who reluctantly aids Mackenzie on her journey across the wilderness of Denali National Park.

Shot in 35 mm film, the directorial debut feature of producer Frank Hall Green is a stunning visual travelogue of some of the country’s least iconic, but most gorgeous open spaces. Shooting with actual film rather than digital gives “Wildlike” an added richness that helps build cinematic depth and ground the performances in essentially a two-hander plot. Real film is typically cost-prohibitive for independent filmmakers, but thanks to a grant, Green and cinematographer Hillary Spera are able to gift viewers with a visual experience unmatched by other first-time filmmakers.

Greenwood is as steady as fans of his work would come to expect from the veteran character actor, providing a sense of calm for viewers among the sometime frantic nature of Purnell’s performance. As his own issues are slowly revealed in the film’s latter stages, Greenwood and Purnell are able to develop a comfortability with each other as actors that also for increased authenticity in the challenging script material.

Purnell, a young British actress who came onto the scene with “Never Let Me Go” and as a young Angelina Jolie in “Maleficent,” melts into her role as Mackenzie, playing both bitter and confused about her abuse to absolute perfection while simultaneously balancing her own self-discovery about sexuality in adolescence. Not many actresses could have pulled off Purnell’s nuanced performance. Indeed, her work in “Wildlike” is on the same level as Jennifer Lawrence’s in the indie smash hit “Winter’s Bone” that helped launch her career.

Viewers may also recognize Brian Geraghty in a smaller role as Mackenzie’s uncle. Geraghty, best known for his work opposite Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie in “The Hurt Locker,” makes the most of his small, but pivotal supporting role.

Moviegoers will likely be overwhelmed by the amount of quality film options set to be released over the next month. Everything from action-adventure films (“The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials) to comedy (“The Intern”), space travel (“The Martian”) to eventual Oscar contenders (“Black Mass,” “Legend”) will hit the big screen within three weeks.

Between now and the end of the year, Hollywood will cram most of the year’s best features into the last three-and-a-half months in an effort to maximize box office returns and Academy Award chances.

Hiding within the fog are smaller, less publicized films like “Wildlike,” which are just as deserving of support from a nuanced, film-obsessed audience. While “Wildlike” will likely never achieve the same cult-like status among hardcore film fans like the sci-fi indie hit “Ex Machina” did early this year, Green’s debut feature — now at 150 film festival screenings and counting — is of similar quality from start to finish.

Visually dynamic with performances to support its artistic style, “Wildlike” is definitely a film worth making the effort to find amid the larger selection of new releases this fall.

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