“You know what they call trees in a forest fire? Fuel. You know what they call the trees left up when the fires go by? They call them the standing dead.”

Jeanette Brinson

Actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut is a 1960s family drama set in a small town that is surrounded by wildfires, a metaphor for the claustrophobic relationship and sense of impending doom at its heart. Dano’s style is restrained, trusting his actors’ performances to carry the film and he draws out wonderfully nuanced performances from Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal. Both characters are harmed by their own pride, early tension arising when Jerry loses his job, set against the backdrop of shifting gender roles. The focus of Wildlife is really on Jeanette’s erratic behaviour in response to her marital troubles, and here Mulligan excels. The audience perspective is that of the couple’s 14-year-old son, and in key moments Dano chooses to leave the camera on Joe’s expression whilst the audience can surmise — contextually or through audio — what is happening off-screen. This is engaging, if old-school, performance-centric film making, and it serves the material well.