This is the loosest, freest film Sean Penn has done as a director, perhaps because he’s made a movie about one man’s heedless quest for personal freedom. It’s a beautiful match of mood and material, and a major step forward for Penn as a filmmaker. Based on Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book of the same name, Into the Wild dramatizes the life of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a college graduate who dropped everything – his savings, his family, his future – to wander the American wilderness. Penn’s exuberant directing and Hirsch’s vulnerable performance elevate this above most finding-yourself dramas. Penn’s camera is agog at our country’s natural wonders, while Hirsch never gives the impression that McCandless is doing this out of a sense of superiority. Together, they’ve created a movie whose love of vibrant American life is reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.