Blu-Ray Review: ‘Wakefield’ (Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garner)

Bryan Cranston as Howard Wakefield and Jennifer Garner as Diana Wakefield in Robin Swicord’s WAKEFIELD. Photo by Gilles Mingasson. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.
Released earlier this month via Shout! Factory, Wakefield features a stunning performance from Bryan Cranston. I didn’t get a chance to talk about the film on the August episode of CinemAddicts. My review of Wakefield is below, and I’ll also be including this disc for my latest Giveaway. So stay tuned!!

Bryan Cranston as Howard Wakefield in Robin Swicord’s WAKEFIELD. Photo by Gilles Mingasson. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.


Wakefield, based on a short story by E.L. Doctorow, centers on Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston), a successful New York lawyer who, on a fateful train commute to the suburbs, makes a decision for the ages. When a power failure inconveniences his journey home, Wakefield, who also hasn’t answered his wife Diana’s (Jennifer Garner) calls, finds refuge in the family attic.

The germ of his idea is to not join his family for dinner (he’s already late anyway),  Upon awakening the next morning he realizes that whatever excuse he gives his spouse will not be good enough. We also surmise that their relationship is on rocky ground, as she’d rather throw his grub in the trash than put it in the fridge. Even two children and a roomy suburban home doesn’t guarantee happiness, and Wakefield’s decision to disappear from their lives is the ultimate sign of discontent.

As the days and months roll on we witness Wakefield transform from a white collar employee to a hungry, sometimes shoe-less wanderer. Though he lives in the family attic, his daily sustenance is finding food from the garbage that’s left out in his neighborhood.

Why does Wakefield, who’s living in the lap of luxury, forego the good life and a beautiful wife and kids for a life of vagrancy? Writer-director Robin Swicord gives us hints about his restless spirit via flashback, as we witness his seduction of Diana (then a dancer) by stealing her from a good friend (Jason O’Mara). But did he really love his wife, or was it simply to beat his friend to the punch?

Photo by Gilles Mingasson. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

In present day, Wakefield’s own love for Diana is questioned, as he can only be aroused when he catches her conversing other men. These voyeuristic tendencies are probably the main reason why, even in the throes of hunger, he continues to live far from view. Watching Diana and his kids deal with his apparent disappearance actually lights this man’s fire which, let’s face it, means he’s a pretty horrific human being.

Even though Garner, O’Mara, and Beverly D’Angelo (she’s Wakefield’s mother-in-law) all have ample screen time, the show essentially belongs to Cranston. For the entire narrative we are placed inside his head space, and a great chunk of the dialogue comes from Wakefield’s rather unseemly voiceovers.

Robin Swicord on set of her film WAKEFIELD. Photo by Gilles Mingasson. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

Credit goes to Swicord, who adapted the narrative from E.L. Doctorow’s short story, for refusing to infuse Wakefield with a forced upon likability to curry favor from viewers. Instead, she throws us into the world of a selfish man who may never redeem himself or learn from his mistakes. The film’s final moments, which has viewers deciding where they want the story to go, is yet another uncompromising element that absolutely won me over. The key behind Wakefield’s story is to not sympathize with the man, but rather see if his own predicament/undoing is relatable.

Whether you’re driving home or riding the train to your family, that dark desire to simply turn the other direction is a fantasy that thankfully most of us will never live out. Wakefield went off the deep end, searching for something that, no matter how long he stays in that attic, continues to elude him.

Wakefield is now available via Shout! Factory.

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

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