Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) is a successful businessman with a wife, two daughters and a lovely home in the suburbs. But arriving home one day, the daily grind of working life, the stagnation of his marriage and the ingratitude of his family wear him down. Retreating to the attic of his garage, he finds he has a perfect vantage point from which to watch his wife and daughters live their life and decides to teach them a lesson by spending the night there without telling them. But the taste of freedom is intoxicating and Howard realises that to be free from all the burdens and tribulations of his life, all he needs to do is stay hidden.
It’s a quirky premise, helped enormously by the layout of the Wakefields’ house but there’s only one point where it stretches credibility that he could remain undiscovered all that time and that’s when Howard is reported as missing and the police become involved. Despite the mysterious circumstances of his disappearance, the police never once search the property. That aside, what “Wakefield” gives us, through a superb performance from Cranston, is a monologue examining and deconstructing modern day middle aged life. As Howard watches his family react and then adapt to his absence, he begins to re-examine everything he valued in life as one by one the trappings and status symbols of everyday suburban existence and his assumptions and interpretations of his wife and children are revealed to him anew.
Writer/ Director Robin Swicord fashions the story into a fascinating insight into the human condition as she sympathetically keeps us with Howard’s perspective as he goes through his nervous breakdown and thankfully in Bryan Cranston finds an actor whose presence and emotional range make the journey worthwhile. From the frenetic farce of “Malcolm In The Middle” to the brooding menace of “Breaking Bad”, Cranston has proved himself to be one of the most versatile actors working today and in “Wakefield” he finds a vehicle worthy of his talents and delivers a mesmerising performance. Although by definition distant, there’s also a fine supporting performance by Jennifer Garner as Howard’s wife, whom we only really get to know through his anecdotes and remembrances yet she brings enough to the role that we can’t help but wonder if Howard might be something of an unreliable narrator when it comes to his spouse.
Poignant, raw and utterly captivating, this is a thought-provoking and tender examination of the pressures of modern life and the toll it can take. It may be a little indie film, shot in twenty days, but it’s got enough drama, heart and inspired performances that it puts many mainstream pictures to shame.