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2005 | 2004

1 item from 2005

Don't Come Knocking

19 May 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The reteaming of director Wim Wenders and writer Sam Shepard, who collaborated on "Paris, Texas" 21 years ago, yields a dry, spare, odd and oddly satisfying drama about a modern-day lonesome cowboy, lost in a desert of his own making, who seeks salvation by searching out those he left behind.

For the most part shying away from sentimentality and showing little concern for plausibility, "Don't Come Knocking" expresses itself with deadpan humor, striking imagery, Western iconography and outbursts of strong emotions.

Shepard stars in the film along with the lady of his life, Jessica Lange, and a strong cast including Tim Roth, Gabriel Mann and Sarah Polley that gives the film boxoffice luster. Since many characters are puzzling if not downright off-putting, the Sony Pictures Classics release will probably find acceptance only in adult specialty venues.

Howard Spence (Shepard) is supposedly a movie star with a career mostly in Westerns. Given that Hollywood hardly makes Westerns anymore, this is the first of the film's many puzzles. Later in the movie, he will insist that he is "washed up." Yet as the story begins, he is starring in a Western being shot in Monument Valley.

After many a night of debauchery with drugs, alcohol and young women, Howard suddenly needs to flee his life. So he mounts a horse and gallops away from the set. When the crew realizes their lead actor is missing, a call goes out to the insurance company. A detective named Roth is put on the case, and the character's buttoned-down, single-minded personality brings comic fun to all his scenes.

Maxing out his ATM cards and shedding nearly all his belongings, Howard heads to his hometown of Elko, Nev., and a mother Eva Marie Saint) he supposedly hasn't seen or even called in 30 years. She certainly greets him cheerfully enough with only mild words of rebuke.

Howard finds a scrapbook of his press clippings from which you learn that this "Western bad boy"'s real career has consisted of inebriation, scandal and police arrests. Why on Earth did that insurance company ever bond a Howard Spence picture?

His mother just happens to mention that a young woman called her about 30 years ago from Butte, Mont., saying that she was carrying Howard's child. This news apparently never reached Howard. (You have to get used to the sort of illogic that insists the woman would have no way of tracking down a film star.)

Shocked and possibly a little pleased, Howard lights out for Butte with the detective breathing down his neck. Howard's MO doesn't change much; he still gets drunk and wakes up in a bed covered in young girls.

His old flame Doreen (Lange) is easy to find in Butte: She runs the coffee shop where she once worked as a waitress. She takes one look at Howard and remarks, "Well, it took you long enough". (Shepard loves laconic understatements.) She seems amused more than upset or angry about Howard's abrupt reappearance, but you later realize she is doing some acting herself.

On their next encounter, she off-handedly points out Howard's son to him. Earl (Gabriel Mann) is a surly rock musician, who can outdo his father in loutish behavior.

Meanwhile, a young woman named Sky (Polley) arrives in Butte, clutching an urn with her mother's ashes and making inquiries about Howard. You can pretty much guess that she, too, is a product of one of Howard's short flings during that shoot in Butte.

The convergence of all these characters -- including the detective -- in this depressed old mining town results in several emotional outbursts. At one point, an enraged Earl throws his furniture and belongings out of his second-story window onto a street in an area of that appears mostly abandoned.

For two days and one night, characters turn up and hang out among these ruined belongings. Earl even salvages a guitar and plays an instant composition called "Where Is Howard?" while his hippie girlfriend (Fairuza Balk) dances on the broken couch.

In this forlorn setting, the prodigal father and two children reach not exactly a resolution but a kind of acceptance of the situation.

Shepard, cowboy handsome with a hard, lived-in face, gives Howard a perpetually startled look, the look of a man who has just awakened from a 30-year bad dream. Lange uses irony and calculated coolness to disguise her rage at this selfish and cowardly man she once loved.

Mann and Polley express polar opposite reactions to the father who unknowingly abandoned them: The son vehemently rejects Howard, while Polley clings to a yearning curiosity.

Western-tinged music from T Bone Burnett and the open spaces and worn-out town captured by Franz Lustig's crystal-clear cinematography locate this tale in last vestiges of the Old West -- perhaps a reminder that Howard's rugged individualism also is a relic of the past.

What the movie deigns not to answer is the question Howard's mother poses to him: "How'd you get to be such a mess, Howard?" "Don't Come Knocking" only tries to pull him out of this mess.


Sony Pictures Classics

HanWay presents

a Peter Schwartzkopff production by Reverse Angle


Director: Wim Wenders

Screenwriters: Sam Shepard, Wim Wenders

Producer: Peter Schwartzkopff

Executive producers: Jeremy Thomas, In-Ah Lee, Wim Wenders

Director of photography: Franz Lustig

Production designer: Nathan Amondson

Music: T-Bone Burnett

Costumes: Caroline Eselin

Editors: Peter Pzygodda, Oli Weiss


Howard Spence: Sam Shepard

Doreen: Jessica Lange

Sutter: Tim Roth

Earl: Gabriel Mann

Sky: Sarah Polley

Amer: Fairuza Balk

Lulu: Eva Marie Saint

Director: George Kennedy

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 126 minutes »

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2005 | 2004

1 item from 2005

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