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Wildcat review – heartfelt redemption story for human and ocelot | Movies

On paper, this wildlife documentary looks like a slushy sentimental tale of healing and growth. It follows young veteran Harry Turner, who joined the army at 18 and was discharged with PTSD and severe depression after serving in Afghanistan. In the Peruvian Amazon, he finds new meaning in life by caring for an orphaned baby ocelot. (If, like me, you’ve never heard of an ocelot, this little beauty is a wildcat that looks like a cross between a sleek tabby and a leopard.)

Actually, Wildcat does turn out to be a story of healing and growth. But it’s genuinely heartfelt, made with incredible sensitivity and emotional intelligence by Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost. It starts with Turner volunteering at a wildlife rescue centre in the Peruvian rainforest run by an amazing American PhD student called Samantha Zwicker. She explains that Harry’s experience of harsh environments makes him suited to the rainforest; most researchers can’t hack it. The two of them soon become a romantic couple. Then an ocelot cub arrives at the centre, found in a tree felled by loggers. The pair call him Keanu and make a plan for Harry to raise the cub to be released into the wild in 18 months.

Turner makes an ideal ocelot mum. He’s got a lovely warm nurturing side; but he’s tough too, teaching Keanu how to hunt in the forest at night, often with frustrating results (“just eat your rodent Keanu!”). As well as the ups and downs of parenting a wildcat, the film is a compassionately unromantic portrait of Turner’s mental health. At his worst we watch him self-harming and suicidal, looked after by Zwicker (whose own traumatic past is explored). Turner’s openness to showing his vulnerability is very brave.

What an intimate, thoughtful film. I can’t remember the last time I watched a documentary so desperately wanting a happy ending for everyone – human and ocelot.

Wildcat is released on 23 December in cinemas and on 30 December on Prime Video.

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Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash