Well, it’s time of the year again: award season, a time where movie studios both big and small push out some of their strongest films and there is no doubt that we are in for some really special works of cinema. Hot off of his Oscar-winning tour de force Dallas Buyers Club, director Jean-Marc Vallee has teamed up with Oscar-winner herself Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) to bring the story of hiker/memoirist Cheryl Strayed to the big screen. Wild is equal parts adventure and equal parts gritty drama and the results are truly, truly great.

Based on Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Witherspoon portrays Strayed, a woman hoping to transform her life in a really profound way. Up until the point of the book, she had led a life full of questionable behavior, doing drugs and having random promiscuous sex. She is now fed up and she wants to change things for the better. In doing so, she decides to hike more than a thousand miles, by herself, along the desolate Pacific Crest Trail. Equipped with nothing more than a large backpack and the will to make it to the end, Strayed embarks on a journey that isn’t just life-altering but one full of adventure and extraordinary hope.

Witherspoon completely submerges herself into the role of Strayed. The quest she goes on is powerful and not only was it a physical challenge but an extremely emotional one as well. You can tell Witherspoon did her homework and thoroughly prepared herself for Wild. The pain and exhilaration are all at the forefront in her performance and it is because of this unflinching dedication to the role that she will be a strong contender for Best Actress in upcoming award competitions. Laura Dern also provides some great support as Strayed’s late mother who pops up in dream-like flashbacks.

Another great aspect of Wild is the sprawling landscape of the Oregon and California countryside. These locations were the essential backdrop for Strayed’s journey and they really accentuate the beauty and wonder of her hike. Jean-Marc Vallee’s camerawork and Yves Belanger’s cinematography draw out the gorgeousness of the locales and it is absolutely wonderful to the viewer. Strayed is simply passing through this awe-inspiring stretch and we are invited along for the ride.

Wild is a work of art through and through. Reese Witherspoon fully embodies Strayed and her incredible performance won’t go unnoticed. The same can be said about Jean-Marc Vallee, who has shot the film exquisitely. All of the elements are in place and Wild is destined to win a few awards. Films about survival almost always focus on hope and the will of the human spirit. Movies like Cast Away and 127 Hours bring out the best in the actors and the filmmakers involved. Wild is one such a film and Witherspoon simply knocks it out of the park. If you want to see a film based on a true story and with one of Witherspoon’s very best performances, then look no further than Wild.

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