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The Independent Critic

Kristine Tompkins, Yvon Chouinard, Rick Ridgeway, Jimmy Chin
Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Rated PG-13
93 Mins.
Picturehouse, Disney+, National Geographic Channel

 Movie Review: Wild Life 
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It's easy to become overwhelmed with all that needs to be done to save the world, though if there's one genuine feeling I had by the end of Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi's fiercely poetic yet equally motivating feature doc Wild Life it's that each of us can do an awful lot more than we imagine and saving the world may, in fact, be doable. 

Oscar winners for their Free Solo, the husband-and-wife team of Chin and Vasarhelyi opts for more intimate filmmaking here in telling the decades-long love story of two conservationists, Kristine and Doug Tompkins, and how they centered their entire beings around loving one another and saving the world. Having accumulated millions from leading The North Face/Esprit and Patagonia, they used their money to tangibly preserve millions of acres of land in Chile and Argentina by turning them into national parks. Wild Life largely picks up with a shift in the forces, 2015's death of Doug in a kayaking accident that called Kristine into either understandably abandoning their lifelong mission or figuring out how to reimagine it. 

You can likely guess which direction she went. 

Wild Life isn't, in all likelihood, another Academy Award-winning documentary waiting in the wings. It's a good film that never really stretches for greatness despite mesmerizing lensing throughout by Chin and Clair Popkin and original music by Gustavo Santaolalla and Juan Luqui that is immersive throughout the film's 93-minute running time. Wild Life doesn't really dig deeply enough to truly inspire, though it's nearly impossible to not be motivated toward a greater good simply by listening to Tompkins and the village that surrounds her. This village includes Chin, whose friendship with Doug is acknowledged early onand whose presence here adds an extra layer of gravitas to the film. 

Chin and Vasarhelyi direct with a sense of empathy toward their subjects. They seem to inherently understand that this isn't simply an adventure documentary - it's also a multi-layered love story with Doug well represented Kristine. Additional interviews include Rick Ridgeway and Yvon Chouinard, the latter having founded Patagonia and donated its $3 billion worth in 2022 in support of climate change. 

There are times I found myself wishing that Chin and Vasarhelyi had dug a little deeper into the influential notes of this captivating story. Wild Life explores but never really delves into issues such as colonization, though for the most part motives here are never questioned. Wild Life very much believes in the sincerity of these billionaires who simply wanted to do the right thing given the opportunity to do so. 

Wild Life is at its most effective and poignant when it's more intimate than universal. There's an unwavering belief in one's power to change the world and an unwavering sense of responsibility in doing so. While the cinematic journey here isn't without its flaws, it's nonetheless a visually arresting journey with a story worthy of being told. Chin and Vasarhelyi  tell the story with respect, compassion, and remarkable tenderness.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic