Check out Matt Delman’s movie review of Wild Life which hits select theaters Friday, April 14 before streaming on Disney+ in May.Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)
The space in the title Wild Life is doing a lot of heavy lifting. It differentiates the married filmmakers Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s new film in the genre, and moreso, all wildlife documentaries produced in the future will be indebted to its subjects. They (the characters and the filmmakers) infuse the story with a ton of heart. Only the hopefulness of its mission can carry us through to the other side. Whereas the—all excellent—Meru, Free Solo and The Rescue focused on heroic physical feats, Wild Life focuses on the philanthropic efforts of The North Face founder and illustrious conservationist Doug Tompkins. The documentary turns its lens on his wife Kris, who had a choice to make after her husband’s death: do nothing, or try to save the planet.
Global warming is understandably the noblest enemy to go up against, and it takes millions of acres of land to even move the needle the slightest amount. The Tompkins attempt to save as much as possible in Patagonia. This place was special to them, and so they planned to buy the land and turn it into National Parks, re-gifting them back to the governments of Chile and Argentina when they were finished. The local people didn’t exactly give them a warm welcome. But Doug and Kris charged ahead. Their longtime friend and colleague Yvon Chouinard compares Doug to a juvenile delinquent. Only by pure doggedness would this plan work, and it almost all falls apart after a tragic kayaking accident.
The cinematography by Jimmy Chin and Clair Popkin is stunning, with the must-have aerial shots seemingly bigger and bolder than ever. The current day storyline is intercut with archival of Doug and the crew, expertly assembled by editor Bob Eisenhardt. Music by docu favorite Gustavo Santaolalla and Juan Luqui adds to a mood of impending magnitude.
Chin’s experience in the outdoors makes him a good candidate to tell this story. He and Vasarhelyi are clearly in awe of Kris, and that may be why perhaps they avoid any harsh critiques of the Tompkins’ work. Nor are they made out to be superheroes. They are people who don’t think they have limits, which some say is necessary to achieve great things.
– Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)
National Geographic Films; Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin; Wild Life documentary movie review