Sean Penn’s tunnel vision usually makes him a very smart director, said Lou Lumenick in the New York Post. “But he’s all over the map” with Into the Wild, his film based on the true story of Christopher McCandless’ extraordinary journey into the Alaskan wilderness. Penn adapted this screenplay himself from Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book, and it may be Penn’s affection for the material that prevented him from providing a proper story arc. Emile Hirsch plays 22-year-old McCandless, who gave away his savings and cut ties with his upper-middle-class family in order to live close to nature. McCandless’ decision is a fascinating one, said Bruce Bennett in The New York Sun. The viewer has a hard time deciding whether the boy is a spoiled brat or a modern-day Thoreau. Penn evenhandedly presents evidence for both points of view. But his sentimental, outsider’s admiration for the simple life is clear in many lingering nature shots and loving portrayals of the mountain hippies McCandless meets on his journey. These self-indulgent episodes distract from the plot and needlessly extend the running time. Penn’s sincerity, though, does shine through, said Stephanie Zacharek in “If you strip some of that dewy-eyed nature worship from Into the Wild, it becomes clear that Penn cares deeply about presenting this privileged, misguided kid as someone we should care about,” even if we wind up despising him.

(From the magazine)