2018 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Directorial debuts have not had such an assurance in framing and messaging as we see in Paul Dano‘s highly effective “Wildlife.”  Taking a hard, and deeply felt look into divorce and its interpretations through the eyes of a child, Dano magnifies the source material by pulling out extraordinary performances from his cast, most particularly Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan and newcomer Ed Oxenbould.  In the end, despite its cold and distant aura at times, “Wildlife” snags an emotional response from the viewer, and lingers on the mind for long after.

Wildlife,” tells the story of a young boy Joe (Oxenbould), who witnesses his parents’ (Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan) marriage falling apart after his mother finds another man.

Director Paul Dano, who co-writes with Zoe Kazan, establishes a certain, bold aesthetic, thanks to cinematographer Diego Garcia.  We rest upon the eyes and feelings of characters for a substantial period, inventing their thoughts in our head.  What are they thinking?  How must he or she be feeling about all this?  Fixated on Ed Oxenbould‘s Joe, we become a co-parent in the family, begging and pleading for the best possible outcome for an enriched, innocent child.  Much of this feeling is married with Oxenbould’s outstanding performance, who will hawk back to Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood” but paves out an interpretation all his own.

Carey Mulligan‘s broken and unraveling Jeanette may be the single best performance of the esteemed actresses career.  Not since “Shame” has Mulligan been more vulnerable and not since “An Education” have we seen her more committed to her character.  As an actress who has been passed over too many times despite worthy enough turns, Mulligan’s barbarity on screen is a stand out in a year full of strong, female characters.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s lost and self-inflicted father is another standout for the performer but lack of screen time has him lost among louder, brighter performances.  Same goes for Bill Camp‘s Warren Miller, whose “other man” role seems as creepy as it is compelling.

David Lang‘s music adds a depth of nuance, keeping many of us grim but still engaged.  The script, though profoundly melancholy, has a lot to say.  You be remiss to find something as honest and raw in recent memory that handles a family dynamic such as this, but with respect and curiosity. One of the aspects that genuinely pop is the costumes by Amanda Ford and set decorations by Melisa Jusifi and Akin McKenzie.

Wildlife” may have a hard time finding an audience who will embrace its heavily themed musings but as a directorial effort for Paul Dano, I would be excited to see him getting in the chair again, with a more progressive, vibrant story.

“Wildlife” is distributed by IFC Films and opens in theaters on Oct. 19.

GRADE: (★★)

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “WILDLIFE” ranks among the contenders!