Wakefield

Studio: IFC Films
Directed by Robin Swicord

May 18, 2017 Issue #60 - Father John Misty
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Writing an unsympathetic protagonist is a risk. Writing one who is on screen for an entire film’s runtime needs a greater purpose, and even then alienating the audience is a real possibility. In Wakefield, Bryan Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a lawyer who arrives late to his suburban home due to a train malfunction. He plays a trick on his wife (Jennifer Garner) by hiding in the attic above their garage, and watches her fret before accidentally falling asleep in a chair. Howard stays in the attic for months, or the entire film’s runtime.

The film shows Howard, through flashback and his own inner dialog, as a controlling and manipulative man – he married his wife out of competitive spirit with a friend who was also courting her. It would be insufferable if it weren’t for the fact that it follows the same principle and style of a novel with an unreliable narrator, with an added bonus of offering true visual glimpses into his character. A similar story wouldn’t be surprising in a collection of John Cheever’s work.

Wakefield is somewhat about suburban malaise, but it’s also about masculine control. Writer-director Robin Swicord put the film in head and at the hands of Cranston’s Howard, not to champion his decisions or character, but to show the audience a portrait of a man who needs to win even when he loses. Fortunately it avoids a traditional redemption arc, but plenty of missteps – the traveling Russian scavengers – keep it from being as good as it could be.

Author rating: 6.5/10

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