Characters’ glances tell film’s story
Emotions run high in ‘Walking Out’
As part of what they conceive as a film-quartet, Sundance veterans Alex and Andrew Smith return to the Sundance Film Festival this year with “Walking Out,” the third of the series. Native sons of Montana, where they grew up in a quite literary household, they, once again, cast the state’s ever-evolving grandeur in a prominent role.
Returning for the first time since 2002’s multi-layered “The Slaughter Rule,” their current feature, screening in the U.S. Dramatic competition, is also rife with a tangled and emotional relationship. This time, it’s between an estranged father and son, when the boy returns to Montana for his annual visit.
To Cal, the living off-the-grid testosterone-rich father, a hunting trip into the deeply forested mountain wilderness country seems like just the ticket to square away the off-track youngster. David spends entirely too much time with his smart-phone and too little with the lore of manhood to suit Cal.
Hunting mega-fauna in the winter mountain wilderness, as Cal had done with his father, and which is referenced often through flashbacks, seems an appropriate way of turning the kid around. Initially, until intervening variables on the hunt reduce options for both, David longs to return home to his mother and a more comfortable environment.
As in many highly nuanced films, thoughts are implied through close-ups, especially of the eyes. This film also doesn’t hold your hand or over-dialogue you through the plot. The actors, Matt Bomer as Cal and Josh Wiggins as David, are charged with conveying the implications of the tale in a more subtle fashion.
Both filmmakers and screenwriters, Alex, with original and adaptation writing credits with Fox Searchlight, HBO, Warner Bros., Disney, Sony, and FX, and Andrew, a professor at the University of Montana School of Media Arts, came upon the David Quammen short-story relatively early in life, and both had been highly-impressed.
For years, the tale just seemed to lie fallow, waiting for the right time for them to actually see it in terms of a personal film project. Once that light went on, however, and fundraising came together, they were off and, if not exactly running, at least trudging through the deeply drifted snow of a Montana mountain range.
“Walking Out” is a story of both survival and coming-of-age — almost “Hemingwayesque” in its reach — not unlike one of “Papa’s” Nick Adams stories. In order for Cal and David to make it back to civilization following a violent disruption to their physicality, raw emotions and deeply-held convictions need to be harnessed.
So far along the arduous trek of the hunt, however, teamwork has been about as evident as trust, surplus energy and fresh water. Cal has spent much of the journey recounting to David his own first hunt with his father (Bill Pullman in a somewhat joyfully-grizzled role with Alex Neustaedter as the young Cal).
Having his own suburban lifestyle being constantly compared to his father’s more manly exploits rubs the boy the wrong way — while the father’s seeming lack of ability to communicate how important the hunt will appear to David later in life, grates in the other direction.
Realizations-of-oneness arrive slowly but inevitably as the “walking out” from their wilderness quandary ensues. Again, it’s not dialogue, but rather the sounds of exertion as they make their way through a highly improbable set of circumstances that fills in the emotional gaps. Often, resolution is bought with the hardest of currency.
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