Susan Granger’s review of “Walking Out” (IFC Films)
Montana-born filmmakers Alex and Andrew Smith craft this father/son saga as a tense survival story, reminiscent of “The Revenant” and “Mountain Men.”
It begins as 14 year-old David (Josh Wiggins), who lives with his divorced mother in Texas, reluctantly arrives in snowy Livingston, Montana, to join his father, Cal (Matt Bomer), for their annual visit.
A rugged outdoorsman/hunter, Cal is determined to share his knowledge and love of the frigid wilderness with his iPhone-addicted son. He’s been meticulously tracking a moose so David can score his “first kill.” That rite-of-passage incites both edgy anticipation and fear in tongue-tied David.
“Never kill anything except for food,” Cal cautions as part of bonding with David. Cal’s resolve is intercut with vivid flashbacks to his own childhood 30 years earlier, when he went hunting with his father (Bill Pullman) and killed his first moose.
After hiking for hours through mountainous territory, David and Cal discover that the moose they’d intended to shoot was already killed – by a rogue grizzly bear, so Cal kills a bull elk instead.
As they’re hacking up the meat, David is attacked by a mother grizzly whose cub was killed by the same rogue bear. His hand badly injured, David climbs a tree. Desperately hanging onto his perch, David accidentally fires his rifle and the bullet shatters his father’s knee.
Unable to walk, Cal urges David to go for help, but David realizes that he cannot leave his critically wounded father alone. So he hoists Cal onto his back and treks down the mountain in a blinding blizzard, terrified that he won’t be able to find his way back to the tiny cabin where they’d spent the night.
Adapting a short story by David Quammen, Alex and Andre Smith, collaborating with cinematographer Todd McMullen, capture the majestic grandeur of the mountains and rare glimpses of wildlife.
In one scene, a curious young deer comes close to Cal’s face and licks it. According to Matt Bomer, that ‘real’ encounter was “a kind of spiritual experience. One of those things you hope you can just be in the moment for.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Walking Out” is a spare but incredibly sensitive 7.