Into the Wild Starring: Emile Hirsch, Hal Holbrook, Kristen Stewart, Catherine Keener Director: Sean Penn The film: Sean Penn's fourth directorial effort has been festooned with critical garlands, and it's not difficult to see why. This is the film in which the erstwhile enfant terrible of American filmmaking has finally come of age: Into the Wild is a mature piece that combines visual splendour and a lyrical reflection on humanity with the real-life story of a young man turning his back on 'poisoned civilisation' by undertaking an eventually ill-fated voyage to Alaska. Emile Hirsch gives a powerful performance as Chris McCandless, a middle-class straight-A college graduate from Atlanta who drops out in the most radical manner. Instead of drawing on his education fund and going to Harvard Law School, the young man - energised by the writings of Thoreau, Tolstoy and Jack London - donates all his money to Oxfam, burns his identity papers and sets out westwards to look for his 'spiritual revolution'. It's a taxing performance, not only because of the physical changes demanded by the role - during his last days in the wilderness, the starved McCandless' weight shrinks by a third or more - but also because Hirsch must convincingly project the other-worldly frame of mind in which his character revels. In the interview that comes with this disc, Hirsch (right with Kristen Stewart) says Into the Wild is 'a classical story about America' - and it is: Penn's screenplay and Eric Cautier's cinematography conjure a vivid portrayal of rural America and its inhabitants, from toiling wheat farmers and trailer-bound travellers to retirees living out their lives in isolated homesteads. It's easy to see that Penn is aiming for more than just a commemoration of the astonishing final two years of McCandless' life. Into the Wild, set between 1990 and 1992, is also the director's rebuke against the excesses of metropolitan living, spawned by Reaganomics, which caused ordinary folk to struggle. This leads us to the film's more problematic aspects. While Into the Wild is perhaps Penn's most measured piece to date, the film is weighed down by the repeated bouts of critique on human greed. The inclusion, if only for a few seconds, of George Bush Snr's televised speech about why the US had to intervene in what would become the first Gulf war implies that the viewer should consider issues about military conflict - except the film can't be stretched to present any related allegory. The fact that McCandless' choice is explained away by his sister Carine (a voiceover by Jena Malone) as being caused by their parents' broken marriage actually undermines the saintly raison d'etre of the young man's expedition. While this might just be an attempt to stay true to McCandless' life, it makes the focus of his struggle too fuzzy and contradictory. The extras: The special DVD release of the film - an ironic gesture, considering McCandless' criticism of materialism and the resulting commodification of life - has set aside a separate disc for special features. Not that it seems necessary, given there are only two making-of featurettes, both filled with interviews with cast and crew and also Jon Krakauer, the writer who brought McCandless' life to print. McCandless' parents, although featured interacting with Penn and the cast on set, are not among those talking in the shorts. The verdict: A visually striking piece that is undermined by flaws in the tone in which the story unfolds.