WILDCAT – Review by Lois Alter Mark

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If you feel like rolling your eyes whenever a pet owner says, “No, they saved me,” get ready for Wildcat to exorcise that cynicism in less than two hours. Not only will this inspiring documentary melt your cold heart but it will prove to you that the human-animal bond is truly healing for both species.

Depending on your point of view, the hero of Wildcat is Harry Turner, a former soldier traumatized by his time in Afghanistan, or Keanu, the orphaned ocelot he is determined to reintroduce to the wild. For me, the real hero of the story is Samantha Zwicker, the founder of Hoja Nueva, the conservation organization where Turner and Keanu meet, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Turner returns from Afghanistan struggling with depression and PTSD. He finds solace and purpose in the Peruvian rainforest, where he meets Zwicker, who is working to save wild animals from poachers. Together, they take on the responsibility of rehabilitating a baby ocelot they name Khan.

If you think raising human kids is challenging, just wait until you watch Turner try to teach Khan the skills he’ll need to survive in the wild. He’s so invested in Khan’s success that, when things go terribly wrong, Turner spirals downhill himself.

By divine fate, he’s given a second chance when another orphaned baby ocelot comes along and needs saving. Turner names him Keanu and is determined to get him safely back into the wild. The process is a roller coaster ride for both of them and it’s a joy – and relief – to discover they both seem set to live happily ever after.

Filmmakers Melissa Lesh and Trevor Beck Frost get so close to the action that you can’t help gasping during a violent ocelot-caiman fight or when a grief-stricken Turner starts cutting himself. Viewers are completely immersed in the beauty and danger of the Amazon jungle through breathtaking photography and incredible access.

But let’s get back to Zwicker, the movie’s unsung hero. Compassionate, persistent and dealing with childhood trauma of her own, she keeps a clear head no matter what happens. Even after Turner and Khan finally go their separate ways, both better equipped to survive their futures, Zwiger continues to do the work that helped them heal. When, at the end of the movie, she’s given her first female ocelot to rehabilitate, you know it’s a match made in heaven.

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Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark is an award-winning writer who reviews films on Midlife at the Oasis. A former contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade, she also reviewed films for NickJr.com for many years. She is a member of San Diego Film Critics Society and tweets from @loisaltermark. She writes about travel for USA Today and Forbes.