“Oscar® nominee* Bryan Cranston leads a tremendous cast in Wakefield, an adaptation of acclaimed author E.L. Doctorow’s short story by screenwriter and director Robin Swicord.
Successful suburbanite commuter Howard Wakefield (Cranston) has taken a perverse detour from family life: He vanishes without a trace. Hidden in the attic of his garage, surviving by scavenging at night, he secretly observes the lives of his wife (Jennifer Garner) and children. But soon, he realizes that he has not left his family … he has left himself. Also starring Jason O’ Mara and Beverly D’Angelo, Wakefield is “one to definitely seek out” (The Hollywood News).”
We first meet Howard in the bustling city of New York as he makes his way through the overly crowded streets to catch a train leading home after a long day at work as an attorney. Just before going inside to greet his family for dinner, he notices a raccoon that scampers into his attic above his detached garage out back. After chasing away the unwanted rodent, he notices the vantage point he has overlooking his house, into all his windows, able to watch his family unseen. When his wife calls him wondering where he is, Howard declines the call, smiling in the surge of power he feels as he watches her reaction, resulting in his dinner being thrown in the garbage. Needing a few minutes respite before he ventures into what surely will be an argument due to his tardiness, Howard takes a seat in front of the window, accidentally falling asleep until morning.
In a panic after waking up and realizing what’s happened, Howard, naturally, decides that he can’t go back inside now because his wife would think he was with another woman. Wanting to avoid another potential argument, he decides to stay in the attic the rest of the day. He watches as his wife becomes inconsolable with grief, calling the police and friends for support. Howard spends his time imagining the conversations he watches from afar, criticizing every decision and interaction his family has. Days turn into weeks, as Howard resorts to digging through garbage for food, perfectly content in leaving his life behind, all except for the fact he feels the need to be there for his family, watching them from a safe distance. Howard doesn’t necessarily want to leave his family, he wants to leave himself.
One of the most impressive aspects of this film is no doubt Bryan Cranston’s performance. Except for the essential flashbacks of his life and relationships, the film is primarily told by Howard’s inner monologue and talking to himself out loud. Although this method would seem rather limited, it is nothing of the sort. In fact, it is very impressive how well Cranston is able to entertain and dramatize the entire film which rests solely on his ability to react to what he is witnessing. His transformation into an almost animalistic form of himself, and how far he falls from who he used to be and from his family is haunting.
Jennifer Garner also delivers an exceptional performance. Viewed in most part from a distance, she has to convey so much emotion and information just by a certain look. She beautifully encapsulates a woman who does her best to make the best of things given the disappearance of her husband while trying to raise two teenage daughters, as well as struggle to keep her finances in line with no money coming in.
Wakefield creates something very unique, exploring Howard’s debilitating condition that prevents him from accepting himself as the person his family deserves. Howard comments that we’ve all wanted to step away from our lives before, through the film we can see just how desolate and lonely life would become without any interaction and simply watching life happen instead of living it.
Wakefield is presented in 1080p High Definition Widescreen 2.35:1. The transfer is clean with no defects noticed of any kind. Colors are rather muted at times, especially in the dark scenes, which wonderfully mirror the disconnect Howard begins to feel with the life around him. Beyond that, there are some very beautiful shots that garner appreciation due largely to the fact the majority of the film takes place in a disorganized attic.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The track sounds great, with no problems noticed. The majority of the sound will be coming from the center channel in the form of dialogue and the inner monologue, so you aren’t going to hear a lot of action with the surrounds. The score, however, is beautifully done, making it one of the highlights of the film at times.
Unfortunately, there are no extras on this disc except the Theatrical Trailer, which is unfortunate due to the outstanding performance of Bryan Cranston. The film really makes me want to seek out the short story upon which this was based on, and it would have been nice to hear from the filmmakers about that process.
Wakefield is a truly haunting journey in how something spirals out of control to almost the point of no return. Though it explores several themes, needing to accept yourself for who you are is one of the most important. Highly recommended to pick this one up as soon as you can!