The ever versatile Bryan Cranston is Howard Wakefield, a successful attorney, husband and father who, on the outside at least, appears to have it all. But a darkness secretly fills his life.
Told mainly with the use of Cranston’s narration, we see the unfolding of one man’s decent into a mental breakdown. After a busy normal working day, Howard is literally derailed during his journey home by a power outage on the train. Upon walking home his character is given time to reflect upon his life and the appearance of a raccoon on his driveway causes him to chase the animal into his garage. He then enters the attic of the building and notices that he can observe his family through a small window. At this point he decides to watch for a while before falling asleep and the following day he wakes to find that his wife has reported him missing. Intrigued by the drama that plays out following this, he decides not to leave his newfound safe haven and begins to enjoy the attention he indirectly receives due to his “disappearance” coupled with a new sense of freedom.
What follows chronicles the events of his time spent in self imposed confinement and his realisation that he is essentially a lost soul and the fulfilment of his belief that his family are using him essentially as just a bread winner to fund heir own lives and nothing more. As well as the narration, the film also shows earlier periods of his life through flashbacks, mainly dealing with the evolution of the love affair with his now wife (Jennifer Garner) and the ensuing love triangle that lead him to his proposal to her and it is at this point that we see Howard as something other than the brow beaten husband that he appeared to be. In truth Howard possesses a dark and manipulative side and a lot of the problems he identifies in his life are actually a result of this.
Wakefield may well draw comparisons to American Beauty with touches of Hitchcock’s Rear Window in its themes of voyeurism, and whilst its premise is an interesting idea, it lacks the heart of the Sam Mendes film and definitely fails to come close to replicating the same level of captivating tension of the exquisite Rear Window. I found the character of Howard Wakefield to be very hard to warm to and also felt that the story of his courtship and some of the flashbacks during his marriage revealed an abusive, controlling and dare I say toxic man who deserved everything that later befell him. The introduction of certain characters such as a smooth talking work rival and controlling mother in law (Beverley D’Angleo) are wasted here and add nothing to the story other than as props for Howard to mock from afar whilst ad-libbing their conversations in a mocking tone during his observation through a pair of old binoculars.
Wakefield is written and directed by Robin Swicord, who has an impressive list of screenplays under her belt including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Memoirs of a Geisha and is an adaptation of a short story by E.L. Doctorow. Cranston is on fine form and we get to see small glimpses of a menacing side to his performance that we’ve not seen since a certain Mr White decided to buy an camper van, yet his character is letdown by a distinct lack of any redeemable qualities and his story arc leads not to redemption or realisation but rather a repetition of his bad habits. The script does attempt to address this with the introduction of two teenage neighbours who suffer with mental disabilities and Howard’s brief interaction with them, but this subplot felt like out of place filler that had been shoehorned in. Jennifer Garner is adequate in her role but is not given a lot to do other than cry at the dining room table and stare wistfully out of windows.
All in all there’s a sense of missed opportunities in Wakefield and I was let down upon its conclusion. Other than the attraction of seeing the ever reliable and watchable Cranston in a central role I’m afraid Wakefield is a rather generic character study with little to mark it out as anything special.
Film ’89 Verdict – 5/10
Wakefield is available to buy now on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download.