Thursday, June 04, 2020

Call of the Wild: Man and Dog Find Escape Through Nature

Movie Review: Call of the Wild (2020)
Version: Amazon Prime rental

Call of the Wild is a film as big as all the outdoors and as intimate as the heart of the family dog. We witness this in this amazing film based on the book of the same name by Jack London.

This is an ambitious telling of the tale done in a little over an hour and a half. In it, we meet a rambunctious family mutt named Buck, owned by a county judge whom only the judge likes but only a town scoundrel dares snare to sell to some anonymous newspaper ad seeing dogs to help tame the Alaska wilderness. And so, Buck finds himself on a train ride north from his comfortable California home to a whole new life in the snow-filled gold fields of the Yukon. Buck learns a whole new way of living, including how to walk on ice, how to navigate in snow, and how to mush on a dog sled as part of a scraggly team led by likable French Canadian postman Perrault (Omar Sy). It's finding his snow legs and helping Perrault meet the challenge of making a delivery schedule that Buck finds the call of the wild inherent in his soul. Midway through the delivery schedule, Perrault's contract is canceled and Buck and the team are put up for sale. It's now that Buck meets an old acquaintance, John Thornton (Harrison Ford), an old man who has escaped the misfortunes of life to live out fate in the wild country. He rescues Buck from a dangerous fortune hunter (Dan Stevens) but with the understanding Buck is free to go his own way any time. A friendship is bonded nonetheless and the two set off on a journey of discovery that leads Thornton to find the richness of life and Buck the keys to legacy from his own personal call to the wild.

This film isn't about Harrison Ford's character -- he is very much a supporting actor in this role. And yet Call of the Wild would very much not be the film it is without him in that role. It defines his legacy as a lead actor even so. I would see this movie just to see him in this role. At the same time, the main character, Buck, isn't even an actor. This is probably a SPOILER, so read with caution, but Buck is done all in CGI. Imagine all the things Buck must do to make this character come to life and the effort required to train a dog to do them all, and get the expressions on its face. In a sense that's a cheat, making Ford's work to carry this film even more weighty. To our fortune, it all works, brilliantly.

The setting for most of this film, the wild of Alaska and the Yukon, the wild of nature, is also brilliant. It calls to you as it calls to Thornton and especially to Buck. This would be even more so on the large screen in a theater, of course, but being as COVID-19 interrupted theater screenings, we will just have to imagine that.

The book Call of the Wild was written in 1903 but London's story translates well thematically and technically in 2020. We can all appreciate the breath of fresh air it represents cinematically and metaphorically in these complicated, claustrophobic times. I suggest you gather the family around the big screen at home this weekend and enjoy Call of the Wild and escape the wild ride we are on for at least and hour and a half (and some change).

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