In 2016’s Swiss Army Man, Paul Dano played a bearded, borderline suicidal hermit stranded on a remote island who escapes to civilization with the help of a flatulent corpse. In real life, Paul Dano the actor seems to have it all figured out and is on a pretty darn fast ascent. Dano has been a Sundance Film Festival regular since 2005’s The Ballad of Jack and Rose and an accomplished favourite since 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. Since then, the man has turned out a seemingly endless slew of admirable performances, from There Will Be Blood to Prisoners, to Love and Mercy. Having earned himself pride of place as being one of this generation’s most prolific, impressive and altogether underrated actors. 2018 marked the year he returned to Sundance for the first time as director.
Based on the 1990 novel of the same name, Wildlife follows couple Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) strained by a lack of work and the growing temptation of infidelity in 1960s Montana. A nearby uncontrolled forest fire rages on the Canadian border and when Jerry joins the team helping fight it, Jeanette finds herself slipping into the arms of another, older man. The destruction of the small family unit is seen through the eyes of Joe (Ed Oxenbould), their 14-year-old son, whose life begins to spiral as he deals with the fallout.
The film is yet to be gifted a widespread release date, but given its reception at Sundance, it’s inevitably on the way. Commended as “a natural-born filmmaker,” by Variety, Dano has instantly cemented himself as an imminent force and a prime mover in the world of cinema’s head honchos. The long-faced gaze of inquisitive gloom marking Dano’s expression that has always radiated through to his roles and performances will surely bleed into his directorial efforts, and perhaps more so with Wildlife. We’ll be watching adults act out their dazed and flustered emotions with the added furrow of an adolescent eye, who, played by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould, is, apparently, very Dano-esque. He’s hushed, pensive, reserved, shy. You can imagine why Dano, who wrote the film’s screenplay along with partner Zoe Kazan, was attracted to the source material.
The pair have worked together before, on 2012’s Ruby Sparks, which Kazan wrote and Dano starred in, but Wildlife marks the first time they’ve written as a duo. “I wrote a first draft that was quite long and not in screenplay format and I secretly thought it was really good,” Dano said. He gave the draft to Kazan to read over, who had few qualms tearing it apart. “We got through about five pages of notes before we said ‘Well, that’s enough of that’,” he said. Kazan then helped to rewrite the script and the pair passed drafts back and forth for a while before the final draft was finalized. Three years on, and Wildlife is in the bag, is staggeringly close to hitting the big screen, and, with the lauded reception its Sundance premiere received, is perhaps the start of an entirely new and entirely apt career of cinema’s freshest up-and-coming director.
Wildlife (2018), directed by Paul Dano, premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2018, UK release date and certificate TBC.