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Running Time:
1 hr. 46 minutes

Rating: R Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Adult.

Rating Explanation:
for some sexual material and languageor some sexual material and language

Jimmy's Buzz Guide Review:
This riveting character study draws you in even as it turns you off. Bryan Cranston is simply remarkable in a tricky role where his character has precious little dialogue, but you won't be able to take your eyes off of him.

Additional Info:
Bryan Cranston ... Howard Wakefield
Jennifer Garner ... Diana Wakefield
Beverly D'Angelo ... Babs
Jason O'Mara ... Dirk Morrison
Ian Anthony Dale ... Ben Jacobs
Pippa Bennett-Warner ... Emily
Ellery Sprayberry ... Giselle
Monica Lawson ... Ellen
Isaac Leyva ... Herbert
Victoria Bruno ... Taylor


Adapted from E.L. Doctorow’s short story (published in The New Yorker) that was in turn inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1835 story, the movie is literary to its core—it feels like a short story—and largely unfolds inside Wakefield’s mind as he observes, assesses and recollects; one narcissist’s heady interior monologue from beginning to end.

A high-earning New York City litigator, Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) is commuting home to Westchester one night when a power outage forces him to walk a long distance back to his house. He arrives late, exhausted and irritated, his annoyance further fueled at the sight of a raccoon skulking around the yard before darting into the carriage-house garage and up the stairs into the attic space. Wakefield dashes after him. From the attic window he observes his teenage daughters and his beautiful wife Diana (Jennifer Garner) cleaning up the dinner dishes. Watching Diana reminds him of an unpleasant squabble they had the previous night, bringing to mind his souring 15-year marriage, often marred by his jealousy.

To avoid Diana, he decides to wait in the attic until she goes to bed. But he falls asleep and when he wakes the next morning he’s sure that Diana will not believe what happened and so he delays his return. Time passes and he finds himself enjoying his role as a voyeur, studying his wife’s irritation at his absence morphing into concern as the police arrive along with his colleagues, friends and neighbors, all of whom are trying to grapple with his unexplained disappearance.

In a spirit of experimentation, Wakefield decides to remain hidden in the garage attic and as one night leads to the next, he survives by foraging through the neighborhood garbage. Months go by—passing seasons nicely telescoped with pumpkins, Christmas trees, etc.—and despite momentary lapses the pleasure of spying on his family while he remains invisible and thus in some ways omnipotent only escalates with time. 

An arrogant man, Wakefield has great fun mocking and mimicking everyone. His hitherto suppressed misanthropy runs rampant. In his previous life he felt silenced and scrutinized. When his wife phoned he grumbled about her surveillance of him, allowing her call to go to voicemail. But the tables have now turned as he constantly peers in at her, binoculars in hand.

With dirty, unkempt hair and long, blackened fingernails, he’s able to wander around the streets unrecognizable to everyone. A local kid views him as a beggar and hands him some loose change. His only human contact is with a couple of severely challenged youngsters living in a group home nearby. The more humiliated and isolated he becomes, the freer he becomes.

Wakefield  grows more in tune with the primitive natural world. Lying on the floor in a heatless room, its roof riddled with holes allowing icy snow to trickle down on him, he tries to stay warm beneath thin blankets. In the warmer weather he’s assaulted by mosquitoes, and the raccoon, which he previously swatted, is now his companion. It’s another ironic twist of fate.

Wakefield is not a class-conscious movie, but it’s difficult to ignore the opulent comfort in our protagonist’s community, especially as the once wealthy and now impoverished Wakefield stares into the large, gracious homes and more poignantly as he uncovers perfectly good food that has been tossed into the garbage.

His turning point occurs when he suspects Diana may be seeing a former rival who has now surfaced in the house more than once. Wakefield liked thinking of Diana in a state of limbo, without the freedom to cultivate a new romance that comes with widowhood or divorce. It’s a detail, but she never removes her wedding ring, though neither does he.

Wakefield's defining flaw is his inability to grasp the experiences of another human being separate from himself. If Diana is dating his formal rival, Wakefield has been defeated. If she has cut down on purchasing pricey items, her sacrifice reflects poorly on him as a provider. At no point does he feel any compassion for his wife or guilt at the anguish he has caused her as she wonders where he is and what happened to him. Even more appalling—and credibility-defying—is his apparent indifference to his young daughters.

In the Hawthorne story, set in 19th-century London and altogether more mythic in tone, Wakefield has no children, which focuses the narrative and makes so much more emotional sense. Similarly, Hawthorne’s Wakefield is an enigmatic figure, devoid of backstory, stated or implied motivations. The distance of time and the lack of exposition pack a stronger punch than the more literal and fleshed-out Doctorow story, and by extension this film, whose adaptation is on-point. That said, they are faithful to Hawthorne’s vision of Wakefield as “remarkable a freak as may be found in the whole list of human oddities,” even as the character is updated, Americanized and played by one of the most relatable actors onscreen.

Despite the film’s cop-out ending, Wakefield is for the most part a riveting character study that draws you in even as it turns you off. 

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