A real contender for Oscar glory in February - acting, directing, writing, cinematography, music - Sean Penn's 'Into the Wild' is that rarest of films: one that any person of any age can watch and feel that they've learned something more about life and what it is to love and be loved. It's a film which heralds Emile Hirsch as one of the best young actors of this era, which brilliantly brings writer Jon Krakauer's non-fiction source bestseller to life and which, most importantly, does justice to its subject, Christopher J McCandless.

Having graduated from college in the summer of 1990, McCandless (Hirsch) decided to turn his back on his family and future studies and live his dream: to travel America like a true pioneer. He gave away his $24,000 life savings to charity, burnt all his identification, abandoned his car and headed west. Along the way he touched lives, had adventures and made plans for the greatest one of all: to spend months alone in the Alaskan wilderness.

Most who have read Krakauer's book feel that it's unforgettable and so it is with Penn's film, a beautifully shot road movie which runs the gamut of human emotions and through all the shifting scenery never loses sight of its message: that people, not possessions, pride or position, are what truly matter in this life.

In all his films as a director Penn has concerned himself with slowly crossing the landscapes of the male psyche and the true story of McCandless' travels from 1990 to 1992 provides him with his most thought-provoking and visually arresting journey yet. It takes in all climates - both internal and external - as we come to share the world of a young man who went it alone, not because he didn't care, but because he cared too much.

Hirsch is excellent as the young wanderer, capturing every facet of McCandless' character that lovers of the book could wish for. He's joined by a superb supporting cast, with Catherine Keener as the hippie who finds her maternal instincts in overdrive when she encounters him; Hurt and Harden as the parents at a loss to understand what has happened their son; Vaughn as the charming chancer he meets on the road and, most poignantly of all, Holbrook as the old man haunted by loss who forms such a deep understanding with the new arrival in his life that he sees himself and his surroundings in a different light.

Perhaps you will too.

Harry Guerin