So I watched Wakefield…
I remember seeing this film’s trailer and instantly being transfixed. The premise was an incredibly interesting one and almost every Bryan Cranston performance deserves watching.
Okay, basic plot: Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) is a successful attorney living in New York. Although his life is seemingly perfect – good job, beautiful wife, two loving daughters – Howard has began to resent it. One night, returning home late from work, Howard chases a raccoon into his attic which is separate from his house. From here he realises that he has a perfect view into his home. He stays up there for a moment, spying on his family, wishing to delay his return to the life he now so dreads. This moment of postponement turns into days which turn into months. Howard’s family is grief-stricken not knowing where he is or what happened to him, as Howard watches on silently from the attic.
This film’s basic concept is a very interesting one. It’s about the wish for detachment and renewal. To step away from the minutiae of your life and live without responsibilities. Now most people would just go on holiday or find a new hobby but Wakefield takes it a step further. As our main character lives out his self-imposed exile, he relinquishes all the old joys and comforts of his former life. He becomes a hobo – scavenging through trash cans for food and systematically compromising his dignity. Watching his journey of self-detachment is fascinating. The fact that he decides to spy on his family from their attic as he does this is what makes this film feel truly unique.
One of my favourite pieces of dialogue in this film is when Howard – who also serves as the film’s narrator – says, “I never left my family, I left myself.” He goes on this journey of self-discovery. He sheds everything that previously defined him – his status, his possessions, his family, his hygiene. He becomes bare, raw and free from all of these things, he’s able to look at his life in a completely different way. He detaches himself from it in order to obtain a deeper connection to it. Robin Swicord – who wrote and directed this film – crafts an intimate, thought-provoking piece of film. Swicord never paints a character as good or bad but instead allows the story to flow naturally and leaves you to draw your own conclusions.
Now it’s very easy to see our main character as the obvious ‘bad guy’ in this story. He abandons this family, puts them through months of uncertainty and grief all because he’s dissatisfied with life. It seems an easy decision to make but Swicord’s impartial writing and Cranston’s brilliant performance make the decision much more difficult to make than you’d expect. Cranston is the heart and soul of this film. He, by default, has the majority of the screentime and dialogue in this film; but even in scenes where he shares the screen, he continuously steals the limelight. Cranston has a difficult task at hand because he has to portray a character you can empathise with while simultaneously have distaste for. It’s a delicate tightrope to walk but Cranston does it with absolute class.
His performance reminded me a great deal of Tom Hanks in Castaway and Matt Damon in The Martian. The majority of his screentime is spent alone and Cranston, therefore, has no one to bounce off of. He has to create every piece of magic on his own and carry the entire emotional weight of the scene. Cranston does have a talented cast around him. Jennifer Garner does well; like most of the film’s cast she’s often seen and not heard and I imagine accepting a role like this must be difficult for a Hollywood star like her. I applaud her dedication and her commitment to placing the film’s story over her ego. Pippa Bennett-Warner and Isaac Leyva have cameo roles in this film and really impressed me with their heartfelt performances
Overall, Wakefield is an entertaining and thoughtful film. It’s patient, made by a filmmaker who respects its story and brought to life by an actor with tremendous talent. It’s definitely worth seeing 7/10