Harrison Ford solid gold in ‘The Call of the Wild’

Rick's Reviews

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Harrison Ford has starred in so many big franchise movies that have been loaded with special effects that it is often easy to overlook his accomplished acting skills. It takes a movie like “The Call of the Wild” to be the right vehicle to put his skills on display.

The film is a loose adaptation of the 1903 Jack London book about a big-hearted dog, Buck, who goes through a series of adventures in the Alaskan Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. The script by Michael Green (“Blade Runner 2049”) maintains key elements of the classic adventure story but there have been some liberties taken including the movie’s big climax.

This latest film version starts with Buck as a pampered pet in Southern California. He’s taken and shipped north where those looking for gold need strong dogs to pull sleds. Buck is purchased by Perrault (Omar Sy) and Francoise (Cara Gee), a couple who travel hundreds of miles by sled to deliver the mail.

Buck goes through one other owner – played with a snarling evil approach by Dan Stevens – before ending up with the crusty loner John Thornton (Ford). It seems Thornton is living a life of self-exile because of an emotional loss in his life. That changes when Buck comes along to kindle new life into him. The pair set out to go beyond the maps to a land where all is wild.

Green’s general adherence to the book creates several situations where there are large gaps when Ford is not on the screen. Sy and Gee are good but the movie is at its heartwarming best when it is just Buck and John.

This is where Ford’s acting skills become so important. The effects used to create Buck are generally good (although there a couple of weird moments with the dog’s eyes) but when Ford is in the scene, he makes the dog and the scene come to life.

Other actors have played this role – including Clark Gable, Charlton Heston and Ricky Schroeder – but Ford gives his own unique spin to the character. He plays John as having a heroic heart but never as a full blown hero. There is a lot of pain in John’s eyes until he finally connects with Buck.

Director Chris Sanders shows a deep understanding that the setting is as important to the production as the man and his dog. Whether it be a heart-stopping avalanche or just stopping on a hill to appreciate the view, Sanders paints such a beautiful scenario that the actors and animals could be removed and it would still be a work of art that would be as beautiful to behold.

What makes the work by Sanders even more impressive is that this is the first live-action feature film he has directed. His past works have included animated movies such as “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Lilo & Stitch.”

The good thing is that the stunning vistas are part of a film that trumpets the strength of the human spirit, acts as a deep tribute to the bond humans and animals can have and allows Ford to show off he doesn’t need to be in a galaxy far, far away or searching for lost treasure to create a character with depth, heart and emotional magic.

Moviegoers should listen closely for “The Call of the Wild” as it will be a lure to a touching and memorable time in the theater.

The film is rated PG for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language. It must be noted that there are a few intense moments with the animals (but not as graphic as London wrote) that have the potential to be upsetting to young viewers.

Grade: B

Also new in theaters this weekend are:

“Brahms: The Boy II”: A young boy makes friends with a doll named Brahms. Katie Holmes stars.

“Las pildoras de mi novio” (“My Boyfriend’s Meds): Island getaway plans go bad when someone forgets to bring their medication.

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