Movie Review: Big Sky Country tests Father and Son in “Walking Out”

Walking Out - Still 2

There’s an economy to the writing that marks the earliest moments of “Walking Out,” another winter survival tale — this time involving injured father and son hunters struggling to escape the Montana wilderness.

David (Josh Wiggins) gets off a plane, and his dad (Matt Bomer) tells us all we need to know about this relationship with one question.

“You have a good year?”

They’re estranged, with the father — a real hunter-gatherer type — not seeing the teenage boy more than once a year. He may put a civilized, romantic emphasis on what the boy’s mother now looks like, how she’s faring. But something about his open topped Land Rover (in the Montana winter) and insistence on how he and his kid spend their yearly visit together tells us most of what we need to know there, too.

“I don’t WANT to kill a moose!”

There’s little in this latest slice of frontier life and values from the Smith brothers, Alex and Andrew, to give away that they’re 50 and British. Until Cal, the father with the passion for guns, tendency to nip from a flask and “taste for killin'” starts filling the frosty air with words. The Smiths don’t know from Western Stoicism, the “silent types” the region is famous for.

But Cal, scary eyes or no, has woodlore and wisdom he wants to pass along, grouse-shooting he wants the boy to learn and a .30-30 he got from his father that he wants to give to the boy. As their trip to “get your moose” progresses, father talks and talks and talks to the boy, impressing upon him what he learned from his old man, respect for the wilderness and wildlife, the difference between “hunting and killing.”

Bomer, of TV’s “White Collar” and “The Last Tycoon,” brings a vulnerable earnestness to the macho Cal, who keeps encouraging his city-raised (Briarwood-Dallas) kid with “You’re stronger than you know,” before marching them into deepening snow on a stalk.

Cal explains everything — “Don’t ‘skyline yourself. Stay low!” — “Walk five, wait one!” He gets at the reason all this is so important to him, talking about fathers wanting, more than anything else, for sons to “know” them.

It’s like a talking cure, therapy in the language of self-help. And it pretty much spoils the character and derails the movie before the melodramatic third-act incidents that injure them both and put David in the predictable dilemma of having to apply everything he’s been told in the first hour to their survival situation.

The scenery is startling and the cinematography by Todd McMullen striking.

Young Wiggins (“Max”) finds a sullen silence, with flashes of “let’s TRY to please Dad” to his resistance to the whole idea of this trip.

But the filmmakers, adapting a short story by David Quammen, emphasize the sensitive — and the tendency to talk about feelings, in the father and the late grandfather (Bill Pullman, seen in flashbacks). A young Eastwood would have taken a pen and X’d out this often-superfluous and generally undermining chattiness and rendered this leaner and meaner, perhaps less subtle, but more iconic.

Because that economy of words that the Smiths find so bracing in the early scenes just highlight how far they go off track in what should have been a simpler, more visceral and quieter quest in the wilderness.

2stars1

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for bloody injury images, some thematic elements and brief strong language

Cast: Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins and Bill Pullman.

Credits: Written and directed by  Alex SmithAndrew J. Smith. An IFC release.

Running time: 1:38

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