Director: Robin Swicord | 104 minutes | drama | Actors: Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garner, Beverly D’Angelo, Ian Anthony Dale, Jason O’Mara, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Ellery Sprayberry, Victoria Bruno, Bill Timoney, Isaac Leyva, Monica Lawson, Frederick Keeve, Derek Alvarado, Alexander Zale , Cameron Simmons, Eliza Coleman, Hal Dion, Scott St. Blaze, Ken Spassione, Tommy Otis, Angela Taylor-Jones, Carinna Rossignoli
Fleeing from your daily life, who doesn’t fantasize about that? Disappear from one moment to the next and decide for yourself if and if so when you show up again. The main character in the film “Wakefield” (2016) by director Robin Swicord puts words to action. Well-behaved businessman and family man Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) had a fight with his wife Diana (Jennifer Garner) the night before and decides to go home after a long day at work, but not to go through the front door. Instead, he decides to sit in a cluttered attic above his garage. This way he has a good view of what is going on in the house and he can keep a close eye on his wife and two teenage daughters. It never crosses his mind that his wife and children may start to worry about where he hangs out. And he doesn’t stop at that one night. He sees the concerned Diana calling the police the next day, and just gloats about it. When she finally dares to leave the house, he slips in for a hot shower, collects some food and useful utensils and decides not to step into the house again. Then just eat from the waste bin …
The premise of “Wakefield” is intriguing; what if you could just pause the everyday grind, but you can see from a distance what effect your disappearance has on those who stayed behind? In Bryan Cranston, the film has a protagonist who has experience playing average men who change the course of their lives from one day to the next; Cranston already did that in the role of Walter White in the television series “Breaking Bad”. The fact that Walter White is making such a turnaround is understandable in view of his personal problems. Howard Wakefield’s transformation, however, came out of the blue. The power failure in the train and the empty battery of his mobile phone may have been signs on the wall, but to immediately stage your own disappearance is going a bit too far. On top of that, Diana – at least as far as we can judge – is not at all such a terrible person as Howard would have us believe. In fact, his behavior seems to be fueled by the fear of losing his beautiful, much younger wife. That is why he keeps a close eye on her like a true voyeur.
‘Wakefield’ starts off very well, thanks also to Howard’s black humor, but after about half an hour gets bogged down in a lingering registration of the monotonous days of the main character, now transformed into a vagrant, who keeps endless monologues with himself, occasionally interspersed with flashbacks in which we discover the devious methods Howard used to take the beautiful Diana from the man who was once his best friend (Jason O’Mara). Today he comes into contact with two mentally handicapped children who live in a kind of care farm further down the street; encounters that seem intended to make Howard more human, but which completely miss their effect. Because we really will not find him sympathetic, and that is probably also the intention of Swicord, who based the scenario on a short story by E.L. 2008’s Doctorow. Cranston is a star at playing this kind of sadistic and self-centered bastards in a midlife crisis, but Howard Wakefield is not Walter White, because we can’t place his acting. In “Wakefield”, our sympathy rather goes to Diana, who we are only allowed to view from a distance and who, except for the flashbacks, we never hear spoken. It is all the better that Jennifer Garner is able to give her enough body that we think she deserves better than that heartless Howard.
Swicord could have saved the film somewhat with a thunderous final piece, but there too she goes unfortunately wrong; the viewer feels cheated. Too bad about such an intriguing premise and such solid actors.