Based on a short story by David Quammen, Josh Wiggins (‘Hellion’, ‘Max’) plays David, a gormless suburban Texas boy who is out of his element without his iPhone. The opening panoramic view of snow-covered mountains of Montana is contrasted with 14-year-old David's engrossed concentration on his hand-held video game as the plane approaches the landing zone. "How was your year?" is David's greeting from Cal (Matt Bomer, ‘The Normal Heart’, ‘The Nice Guys’), divorced and living alone, instantly elucidating their relationship.
Cal aims to uses their short amount of time together to teach his greenhorn son how a rugged tough guy tracks, hunts and kills a moose. But the plan winds up going horrifically awry. Now they must struggle against weather conditions, wild animals and a lack of a map in order to get out of the wilderness alive.
As an injured Cal (carried on David’s back, not unlike Yoda in ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’) explains the history of the mountains, he also tells stories of his youth when his father (David's grandfather) was teaching him the ethics of nature. Cue numerous flashbacks featuring Bill Pullman (‘Battle of the Sexes’, ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’) and Alex Newstaedter (as young Cal), which are sometimes overly stylised and intrusive, but in the end, form an effective parallel story structure.
Wiggins is terrific as David, perfectly embodying a typically terse teenage boy with subtle authenticity. He communicates volumes with low-key facial expressions and awkward gestures. We feel we know this boy. It is a testament to Bomer and Wiggins’s impressive acting and their chemistry that we believe them as father and son, and are riveted by every turn in their journey.
Cinematography by Todd McMullen (TV’s ‘The Leftovers’) captures the beauty and danger of their surrounds. Everything is swamped in James Cameron-esque shades of blue, from Matt Bomer’s eyes, to the clothes of Cal and David, to the landscape itself. In Western culture, the colour blue has associations with the spiritual; this colour value logically extends to the film’s presentation of the journey as the passing of wisdom from Cal to David, something natural and constant as the unspeakably beautiful fields, streams and mountains of Montana around them. The score of Ernst Reijseger (whose pieces have appeared in numerous Werner Herzog films, including ‘Grizzly Man’ and ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’) effectively complements the odd mixture of slow pacing and non-stop danger. Writer/director brothers Alex and Andrew Smith were raised in Montana and clearly wanted to pay homage to their home state, capturing its dramatic visuals.
This compelling film belongs to Wiggins and Bomer, and to the gorgeous backdrop of the Montana mountains.
Movies such as Greg McLean’s ‘Jungle’, Lee Tamahori’s ‘The Edge’ and Joe Carnahan’s Liam Neeson-versus-alpha-wolf-kumite masterpiece ‘The Grey’ come to mind, but ‘Walking Out’ is short on thrills, and is instead a trudging struggle to survive – taking a quiet approach, rather than a showy one. There is a bear mauling, but it is nothing compared to the “grizzly” chompings in films like ‘The Revenant’, ‘Backcountry’ or the recent ‘Annihilation’ on Netflix.
'Walking Out' is a compelling movie that belongs to Wiggins and Bomer, as well as the gorgeous backdrop of the Montana mountains. It’s a gruelling, minimalist story, but also a captivating and poignant generational saga demonstrating that true knowledge can be passed through heartbreak and suffering - a beautiful film about unthinkable things.