Directed by: Robin Swicord
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garner and Beverly D’Angelo
Run Time: 1h 46min
3 1/2 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
Simply put, Wakefield is about a man, Howard Wakefield (Cranston), who decides to leave his family one night. However, it’s a feature film and not a short, so it’s a bit more complicated than that and that’s where it gets interesting. Essentially, Wakefield is a take on what happens to people when they lose their identity. Sometimes people lose who they are when they work, especially if the job is demanding and they don’t have much down time. For example, a person may become someone they don’t recognize when they marry and have kids; forever smiling through the difficult times, showing strength when they’re constantly looking for some themselves.
The opening scene of the film is extremely provocative. The way that cinematographer Andrei Bowden Schwartz and director Robin Swicord takes their audience on a walk with Howard to the train, using not only his expressions, the background and some intoxicating well chosen music to get to know him better, is genius. Right from the start, you don’t want to blink. You already know you’re in for a treat. With such writing accomplishments under her belt such as The Promise, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Jane Austen Book Club and Memoirs of a Geisha and directing Jane Austen, as well, it makes sense that the woman who knows her characters intimately also directs the story. It certainly pays off here and the casting didn’t hurt either. Bryan Cranston achieves what many may not have been able to… he, outside of a few minor scenes, is the only one speaking through the entire film; mostly narration. Being that this is the case, a lesser actor could have bored us to tears but this is Cranston who would be entertaining reading junk mail.
Tired and happy to have been on his way home after a long day, Howard is let down and discouraged when the power goes out on the train. He ends up walking the rest of the way home. While en route, he tells us that’s he’s starting to feel disconnected. Looking around the neighborhood and staring at his home, he realizes he got home too late for dinner and will most likely be going straight to bed only to get back up and repeat the whole day over again in the morning. This doesn’t sound so appealing to him tonight. That said, he decides NOT to go in and instead, goes up to the storage room above the garage and makes himself comfortable. Misanthropically, he watches his family through the window and right away starts to give us a play by play of what his wife, Diana (Garner), is probably thinking; he even laughs to himself out loud when something strikes him as particularly ironic. He gets a little upset when he sees his wife throw his dinner away in the outside trash bin instead of saving it in the fridge for him. This done merely out of spite for his not answering her calls all night.
He then starts to impart how their troubles have been plenty as of late and how it used to be a good marriage once. He admits to playing the jealousy game with her where, if they were out and someone flirted with one of them, the other would get turned on by it and they’d use it as an aphrodisiac later that night. But that stopped and turned into actual resentment.
The next day he gathers some stuff from the house and takes it up to his little fortress adding, ‘Who hasn’t had the impulse to put their life on hold a moment.’ He isn’t thinking about work, he doesn’t feel guilty about leaving the family, especially since he’s still, in essence, there and watching over them.
He seems to be blaming everyone but himself for how he’s feeling and you see that in order to continue living a healthy life, he needs to do some serious introspection. Some self-examination would do him good.
On a few occasions, he not only narrates the story for us but speaks directly to the audience… being accusatory about what we’re thinking, as he has been with his wife. He suggests we’re thinking he’s only playing a game and assures us he isn’t. This continues on and off throughout the film. It’s particularly heartbreaking when he announces that he’s come up with the diagnosis to his dilemma. Self created or not, he believes his family is better without him.
So, if you’re wondering how far he’s willing to go with this, you’re not alone. That was my question the entire time watching. Will he walk away and completely abandon his family or see the light of day and accept what he has; go back to the people who miss him… if he can even go back at this point. What’s such a delight is you’ll not know the answer to that question until you get there. You can guesstimate all you want about what Howard will do but good luck being right.