A successful New York lawyer becomes lulled to sleep by his suburban life and one day during his long commute home, he decides to abandon his cushy life and disappear by hiding out in the garage where he can continue to spy on his family from afar. This is the plot of the strangely compelling film “Wakefield,” the big screen adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s short story. It’s a darkly absorbing tale of losing one’s identity and slowly succumbing to the madness of detached isolation.
Bryan Cranston is Howard Wakefield, a man who is blind to his comfortable suburban life. He has a beautiful and loving wife Diana (Jennifer Garner) and two great kids, but he still feels like something meaningful is missing from his life. One evening after work he suddenly dreads walking in the front door as he has done for years and instead retreats into the attic garage to escape for the night. But when Howard observes his family’s reaction (or rather a near non-reaction) to his disappearance, a sick fascination overtakes him and he decides to hide out full time.
Call it a midlife crisis, call it a perverse detour from a mundane life, or call it a man with delusions of enlightenment, but Howard is a provocative and interesting character. He’s unpleasant no doubt, but there’s something liberating about watching a wealthy, white collar family man slowly break down into bouts of internal madness. As Howard continues to live in the garage unnoticed for months, his hygiene falls by the wayside as he grows an unruly beard and scavenges in the dumpsters at night for leftover scraps of food. He lives like a homeless man on the outskirts of society’s privileged, an outsider looking in on the life he once had — and one to which he has no desire to return.
Director Robin Swicord effectively uses flashbacks to detail scenes of Howard’s previous life and marriage, but mostly we only see his wife and daughters through his eyes, an edited lens of cynicism and affection. We’re trapped in his head of delusions, despair, and confusion, which makes the entire film more personal and more disturbing.
The film is anchored by Cranston’s astounding performance, a one man show of near epic proportions. He goes all in with this character and it’s phenomenal. The story gets dull at times and the vague, divisive ending does the film no favors, but Cranston is the lifeblood that keeps things interesting. If you ever doubted the man’s extraordinary talent (which I’m sure you haven’t), you’ll come away with a newfound respect for the actor after watching this film.
“Wakefield” is an ode to discontent and resentment, a story of self reflection that’s as thought provoking as it is imperfect. It’s unlikely that you’ll forget this one anytime soon.