The mighty Bryan Cranston proves he’s one of Hollywood’s most compelling actors and is once again electric in the character-centred Wakefield from director Robin Swicord. Martin Carr explains why this is must-see cinema.
Writer-director Robin Swicord has answered a burning question here that has occurred to almost everyone. Irrespective of gender, orientation or financial status I believe no one is immune. His premise is simple, the execution masterful, employing flashbacks, voice over and limited locations, creating a film of substance, longevity and unshakeable emotional honesty.
Using an infinitely relatable actor who is able to command a screen without breaking sweat, Swicord pulls off the impossible. Bryan Cranston breathes life into Wakefield and becomes instigator, voyeuristic peeping tom and social conscience to anyone who ever worked for a living. Talking directly to his audience, second guessing critical deconstruction and shooting down theories before they take root, Wakefield is clever without condescension. Like a suburban Cast Away minus the basketball, this rumination on relationships, human interaction and the constraints of conformity are complex but absorbing. A one man show conveyed by an individual at odds with himself, Wakefield touches on personal dynamics but remains refreshingly non-judgemental.
His wife Diana played by an excellent Jennifer Garner does much muted by glass, yet still gives a solid performance matching Cranston line for line during their limited screen time. His daughters, work rival and rival love interest are also well fleshed out but Wakefield belongs to Cranston just as Trumbo did. Displaying his natural comedic talent as showcased on Malcolm In The Middle, it is a performance of infinite permutations, always mesmerising and eloquently Oscar-worthy.
Swicord has taken ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and centred his whole film on the adage. Employing skilfully layered, expertly positioned flashbacks which allow us to fill in the blanks which brought Howard Wakefield to this point. There are moments of heart-breaking mercy, selfless charity and emotional isolation. Proving that with economy, care and a modest budget there are still things to be said about the human condition. Not only that but this chameleon like film ensures our allegiances stay perpetually in flux.
Beyond narrative construction, verbal exchanges and physical actions Wakefield also deals in elements of subjectivity. Point of view whether verbal, visual or otherwise say much about the reliability of this particular narrator. Firstly because he is creating a narrative from his own recollections and interpretations of situations. Which in turn throws into doubt everything we have heard or seen since that first frame, which is where Swicord delivers his master stroke. Providing us with an ending full of ambiguity, neither judgemental, agenda driven or overtly showy. Making Wakefield not only a rare beast but essential purchase for anyone with an eye for cult classics in the making.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Robin Swicord
Written by: Robin Swicord
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garner, Beverly D’Angelo
Released: 2016 / Genre: Drama
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Wakefield on DVD courtesy of Signature Entertainment. The film is out now on DVD and Digital.