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WALKING OUT (2017) review

October 7, 2017

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written by: Andrew J. Smith and Alex Smith
produced by: Brunson Green and Laura Ivey
directed by: Andrew J. Smith and Alex Smith
rated: PG-13 (for bloody injury images, some thematic elements and brief strong language)
runtime: 95 min.
U.S. release date: January 21, 2017 (Sundance) and October 6, 2017 (limited)

 

If you’re yearning to get back to freezing mountain ranges visiting Utah in “Wind River”, you might be interested in “Walking Out” which places us in the unforgiving terrain of Montana. Both films premiered at Sundance this year and can now be seen in select theaters. Apart from their wintry environment, they are very different films, “Wind River” being a harrowing procedural and “Walking Out”, a tale of a father/son struggling to survive harsh elements. It’s the third feature from brothers, Andrew J. Smith and Alex Smith, both of whom directed and wrote the adaptation of David Quammen’s American short story, a compelling wilderness adventure that transfers affectively to the big-screen.

The story opens at a remote Montana airport, where we find 14 year-old David (Josh Wiggins) awaiting the arrival of his outdoorsman father, Cal (Matt Bomer), someone he’ll be staying with for a while. It’s clear the two are estranged and very different from each other. David is used to urban life, attached to his electronic devices and ear buds, while Cal lives off the grid, relying on the land around him. They’re both aware of the chasm between them and do their best to maneuver around each other without addressing it. In an attempt to bring them together, Cal plans out a special hunting trip that will incorporate lessons of life and responsibility, many of which he learned from his own father. It’s an idea doesn’t go over well with David, who shows absolutely no interest in killing animals. Yet once they’re far from civilization, unexpected encounters and challenges present themselves, finding Cal relying on his son to survive.

 

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The storytelling idea of “man vs. nature” has been around since the early days of cave drawings and is certainly know stranger to cinema. The distinction here is that “Walking Out” is also a coming-of-age story for young David, as well as a fish-out-of water tale for the character. For such a story, there has to be a threat involved and that comes after the father and son run into an irritated grizzly, followed by an unfortunate accident that leaves Cal injured enough where David must carry him as they make their way back home.

From the outside, “Walking Out” looks like a straight up tale of survival, but most of it is made up of long walks and dialogue exchanges, an approach that can drag at times, but both Bomer and Wiggins are quite capable of keeping viewers involved. Still, some may feel the pace of the story could’ve been picked up a bit, like I felt while watching this. To be honest, I found myself losing interest a couple times. It does help that the Smiths get considerable emotional force from its score by Ernst Rejseger and expansive cinematography by Todd McMullen.

 

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To add history to the story, the Smiths inject flashback scenes during the journey, finding David reflecting on how his father, Clyde (portayed by Bill Pullman, with Alex Neustaedter playing a young Cal), used to teach him life lessons when they went hunting for quail. This mostly works, while also taking away from the urgency of the current situation. At times, the palpable friction between the two characters shows their true colors – David resents and resists being with his father, showing fear and hesitation toward hunting, whereas Cal becomes frustrated as his vision of parent/child bonding crumbles – which inevitably leads to the mishap that founds them both injured, albeit the father more severely injured, a situation which brings to the forefront a recognizable arc of maturity.

“Walking Out” is by far a much better movie than “First Kill” the recent Bruce Willis/Hayden Christiansen VOD debacle from this past summer which had a similar plot of a father thinking it’d be a good thing to take his city kid out into the country for a life lesson hunting experience.

Bomer and Wiggins have legitimate chemistry together, which they utilize to create some tender moments, especially once David is carrying his father on his back. While the physicality is present, the movie lacks the eventual emotional connection needed between the two characters. In the end, although it’s not a regrettable viewing experience, I found myself left a little wanting.

I’ll admit though, I had a hard time being convinced that Bomer could pull off playing a father of a teen, but he winds up giving a good performance here, working well off of the younger Wiggins and his decidedly internalized yet expressive approach. The two have their share of heavy lifting (no pun intended) with source material that feels like it’s more of a mediative, spiritual look at the relationships between father and son and nature than what’s offered on the big-screen.

 

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RATING: **1/2

 

 

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