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Don’t Come Knocking

16 Apr

Don’t Come Knocking directed by Wim Wenders. Drama. A has-been Western film star flees the set and finds his way back to the families he disregarded 20 years before. 122 minutes Color 2006.
★★★
The poster shows Sam Shepherd perched on the hood of a 50s sedan, his chin in his hand, his hat on, his head down, his face invisible, contemplating his boots. This invisibility of the main actor is typical of the picture, the actor, and so is the way it is shot, largely on bare empty streets of Butte, Montana. No cars, no people, no content. Content Invisible.

Wenders has striven for an Edward Hopper look. But that is a look of blank tedium. And it is also a look which works in paintings because paintings do not move and the look of blank tedium is found only on the faces of humans who do not move. Movies move. So here the trick falls out of the rubric of film-making and into one of the pretenses which govern this picture.

One of the pretenses is that this hollowness holds Some Meaning. But the piece is written by Sam Shepard and as such falls apart before our hopeful eyes, just as all his other pieces do. For there is something empty in Sam Shepard and it is not the emptiness of The Divine. It is the emptiness of a criminal. The crime of art from the non-artist.

In this case, for instance, the confrontation scenes between Jessica Lange and the actor who plays her son, and between the son and Shepard,are not just overwritten but lies. For Shepard does his usual trick of busting up the joint as a display of anger. Smashing a ton of beer bottles at the end of a porch, wrecking your mother’s kitchen – here throwing all the furnishings out of a second story window is simply conventional Shepard shtick. And the convention does not hold because the issues is not rage, but fear.

Anger is easy to act and dramatize. But fear? This we never get to here. We never get to it in the character Shepard has written for himself, or in himself as an actor. I used to think that Shepard was a better actor than a playwright, and that he could carry a film, but I believe I am wrong.

His concerns are ones he wishes to nurse, not to solve. Certainly Butte is interesting to see. George Kennedy is brief fun as a floored director. Tim Roth is effective as the Javert character. And Sarah Polley is right on the money as a newly minted orphan. However, Jessica Lange mugs through her role, as usual, making much of her mouth, perhaps to draw fire from her eyes, which are not good actor’s eyes.

Besides all this bushwah, all the women in this piece are angels, and all the men are devils, and that does not add up to a drama. The rest of it does not add up to one either, and one is left at the finale duped once again by the sexiness, routine taciturnity, good looks, and self-involvement with which the public has masterminded Sam Shepard’s reputation into being. The films leaves you flat.

Flat.

 
 
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