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Sean Penn adapts Jon Krakauer's nonfiction best seller about Christopher McCandless, a headstrong Emory University grad who chucked wealth and family for the call of the American west, undertaking a two-year road trip that ended tragically in the Alaskan wilderness. Emile Hirsch (Alpha Dog) plays the disaffected youth as a cross between idealist and misanthrope, an adventurer who charmed people but craved solitude in nature. The size of his spirit and expectations is reflected in the magnificent locations he traversed—the Grand Canyon, the Salton Sea, the South Dakota plains—given a pearlescent glow by cinematographer Eric Gautier (The Motorcycle Diaries). But a murky screenplay leaves most of the humans ciphers, save for Hal Holbrook in an exquisitely calibrated performance as the avuncular desert retiree whose advice McCandless should have heeded. R, 150 min.

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