Some may accuse Druid Peak of having a very specific agenda, which I suppose it does. In the context of the movie, there is no doubt where the filmmakers come down in the struggle between cattle ranchers and the forest rangers protecting the wild wolf population. Sometimes the environmental message is a little on the nose, but Druid Peak more than makes up for it by being a well told coming of age story that deals with heady themes of responsibility, the balance between humanity and nature, and the relationships between fathers and sons.
Owen Wagner (Spencer Treat Clark) lives with his mother and stepfather in a depressed small town in West Virginia. The teenager is a bad seed and a bully, and seems destined for real trouble. When he runs away from an accident that results in the death of a friend, his mom puts him on a plane to Wyoming to spend the summer with his estranged father Everett (Andrew Wilson). Everett is a park ranger at Yellowstone and is a specialist in the wolves that roam the national park. Owen seems unlikely to change until an encounter with one of the wolves sparks an interest and passion that didn't seem to exist, and Owen begins to help Everett in his research of the wolf packs.
Writer/director Marni Zelnick demonstrates real knowledge of the day to day work of the park rangers, and that familiarity makes the material very accessible for the audience. Though she does pay lip service to the plight of a rancher (Damian Young) whose cattle are under constant attack from wolves, it's obvious she doesn't have much sympathy. A scene in which Everett and Owen buy hunting licenses and then tear them up to prevent any true hunters from buying what is already a limited number of available licenses is powerful, but a little heavy handed. The best scenes are the little moments as father and son get to know each other, as well as the shy flirtation between Owen and Zoe (Rachel Korine), the rancher's daughter. Zelnick avoids some obvious and unnecessary drama by steering clear of any hint of a forbidden love subplot.
Wilson never seems like he's just playing a ranger, and has a natural charisma. Spencer Treat Clark has come a long way since his child actor days, and does a pretty good job of anchoring the film. The role doesn't require much in terms of emoting, but he's a convincing sullen teenager with untapped potential. He and Rachel Korine have an easy chemistry that doesn't feel forced. Korine is equally good in a role that is about as far away from her work in Spring Breakers as possible.
Druid Peak is by no means a great film, but the cinematography Rachel Morrison is lovely and evocative if a little utilitarian, and the backdrop is one that many audience members won't be familiar with. The main story may be a bit predictable, but it is well told, and the setting offsets that enough to make Druid Peak a film worth seeing.