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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think to gain a full appreciation of Don't Come Knocking, it will
help to be familiar with the work of Pulitzer and multiple Obie winning
Sam Shepard, who contributes the screenplay for this movie. I've read
reviews all over the internet complaining that the film lacks in terms
of realism, but this complaint seems ill-conceived if aimed at Shepard,
who has generally operated artistically by exploring mythical tableaux,
as in plays The Horse Dreamer, Fool for Love, etc. It serves to recall
that Paris, Texas, explored an ideal of the mythical West, in which
main characters wonder the desert, chain their wife to a boiler before
lighting the trailer on fire, (ie don't always act rationally).
Having arrived with the caveat that this film is a fable, not a traditional American here's the main conflict, here's the resolution Hollywood special, Don't Come Knocking is really an amazing example of film as art, something attempted all too rarely. Shepard also stars in the film as Howard Spence, an actor known for roles in Westerns. It is this idea of the man as a Cowboy, constantly wandering, living hard, unattached, that has become Howard so completely that he loses all bearings and feels he must escape from his movie set and find something.
Contacting his mother, whom he has not seen in some 30 years, he begins to see himself through her eyes, as someone who appears regularly in tabloids for a myriad of irresponsible behaviors, someone who uses others and is completely unconnected to anyone. His mother informs him that he has a child by a woman in Wyoming, and ducking the law and a film insurance exec (played brilliantly by Tim Roth), Howard sets off to find his child. In the world of Shepard, the father/son relationship often centers on abandonment, and is often central to the conflicts in his stories. So it is in DCK, in which an outraged son rampages through his small town, wrestling with his own origins, and upsetting his mother (played with predictable brilliance by Jessica Lange).
The beautiful cinematography and precise dialog are truly built for each other, and this movie continues to realize Wender's vision of the open American West. If the story lines seem implausible, try to look just beneath the surface at what is going on. Shepard discovers he has two children, the other a young woman named Skye, who has come to Butte to spread her mother's ashes. Skye embodies the female voice, a rarity in the work of Shepard. Skye is centered and desires a relationship. She asks her both her half-brother Earl as well as Howard, "Do you want to be related?" This story is about discovering the desire for human relationship and family, a necessity for buttressing against the harsh realities (broken boxcars, junked autos litter the landscape) of the West as well as the preposterous unrealities propagated by Hollywood myths of perfect love and sunset happiness.
In an interview Shepard once said that it is the "aloneness" that fascinates him about human relationships, as explored in "A Fool For Love", where estranged lovers meet again to love, fight violently, and leave again. In Don't Come Knocking, Shepard seems to leave us with more hope of overcoming our own contradictory natures to create relationships with those we love.
The film offers great appeal in its images, of mirror disco casinos, open road, and its costumes. The western costume, the waitress (Lange as even-tempered caretaker to the coffee-drinking old men and internet surfing youths alike), the businessman (Tim Roth in his Porsche Cayenne, insisting that the outside world not be let in), the modern cowboy (Howard throws away his credit cards and cell-phone, but keeps his sunglasses, which allow him to maintain his distance from all real relationships).
Go see this movie, laugh at the ridiculous nature of some scenes; the humor is intentional (as when exercise bike riders watch Earl's mother's conflicted confrontation with Howard) and very funny. The film is not perfect but is layered and complex, presenting deep conflicts such as the feminine versus the masculine will, the authentic America versus the Hollywood version, the destructive nature of art and creation, etc. Don't Come Knocking is rich and richly achieved, and if you approach it with an open mind, I think you'll enjoy it. I really did.
Wim Wenders' makes extraordinary movies about ordinary people. Whether
the inhabitants are important personalities or 'little people', they
are always especial because of their humanity.
When I did an internet movie quiz that supposedly answered the question, ¨If someone made a movie about your life, who would direct it?¨ I kinda hoped it would be Wenders. His characters are tiny flecks on a vast landscape, made infinitely interesting by fine observation and untiring attention. Each character is a mystery unravelling.
In 'Don't Come Knocking', we follow the almost incomprehensible actions of a leading Hollywood actor (played by Sam Shepherd) who absconds from a film set in the middle of the American desert. He is struggling to escape a lifelong persona of drink, drugs and women, but doesn't know what he is looking for or why he feels life has passed him by. He is nudged occasionally in the right direction by his mother, and followed by a mysterious young woman carrying her mother's ashes and whose knowing smile gently holds back a reservoir of yet-to-be-explained emotion.
Wenders can never be accused of hurrying things along. His movies can be like watching paint dry except that when the painting is finally ready to touch we may feel a masterpiece has just crystallized before our eyes. This is perhaps one of those occasions. Tim Roth as the inscrutable bond man tracking down the wayward actor is barely recognisable till half way through the film, so perfect is the characterisation. Sarah Polley as the mysterious Sky can almost make us burst into tears before we have any idea why, or of the secret she is holding. Shepherd plays Howard Spence with biopic-like conviction. Add a score by T-Bone Burnett that seems to suspend time in the desert with guitar chords that hang in the air, and framed scene upon scene that looks like a classic movie poster waiting to be discovered.
Don't Come Knocking is like one big Do Not Disturb sign on the things we most need to know and that no-one wants to tell us. It's why they're secret and why we also have to know. The film takes a very long time to answer it's own puzzle but, if you can stand the pace, the result is ultimately worth it.
Greetings again from the darkness. Terribly underrated as a director,
Wim Wenders has more than a couple of gems on his resume. Most notable
are "Wings of Desire" and "Paris, Texas". Without question, "Don't Come
Knocking" immediately jumps into the same class as those two
extraordinary films. Collaborating with the insanely talented writer
Sam Shepard for the first time since "Paris, Texas", Wenders offers up
a character study that many of us have more in common with than we
might first imagine.
With a rare appearance in a film he has written, Mr. Shepard plays Howard Spence, a washed up western film star who hits the road in search of the life he somehow missed. Admittedly, when the film opens with Howard galloping off into the desert away from the film set, my stomach began to churn as I had flashbacks to "Electric Horseman". Not long afterward, I became mesmerized by the pain of this man seeking redemption and meaning. Sure, there will be comparisons to "Broken Flowers" and many other meaning of life films, but writer Shepard never once pretends to be writing the great American self realization story. This is a VERY simple story about a handful of VERY interesting characters.
Jessica Lange (Shepard's real life honey) plays his long ago, nearly forgotten love who has never wandered from her small town Montana roots. What Shepard learns, after visiting with his mother (Eva Marie Saint) for the first time in 30 years, is that Lange has raised Shepard's son (Gabriel Mann). The focus drastically shifts for Shepard as he tries to make sense of it all. Just to add to his misery, Shepard is stalked by Sarah Polley (carrying her mom's remains in an urn), who suspects she is his daughter.
The genius of the film lies in the characters and setting. We never feel we are observing. Instead, we are part of the story. Winders camera angles really capture the thought cycles of Shepard in the motel room, at the bar and on the sofa in the road. Watching this would-be dad and these might-be kids come to terms with all of this is on one hand, slyly funny, but mostly intensely painful and intimate.
Spectacular performances by Shepard, Lange, and Eva Marie Saint, as well as strong support from Tim Roth, Polley, Mann and even the great George Kennedy make the story unfold in our reality. Wenders terrific camera work and small town setting with stunning panoramic views keep us comfortable, yet very aware. The pulsing guitar of the seemingly everywhere T Bone Burnett drives our pulse up or down depending on the scene.
This is marvelous film-making and pure joy for film lovers. At the post screening Q&A, Mr. Wenders expressed his enthusiasm for working with Mr. Shepard and creating a masterpiece out of a seemingly little story. We as movie goers are the lucky ones.
"Don't Come Knocking" is undoubtedly the best fiction film made by Wim Wenders since "Wings of Desire". Wenders joins forces with playwright/actor Sam Shepard and the result is a wonderful journey, in Wenders' best style, of a man who flees his life to search for himself. Howard is an over-the-hill western movie star who's had his share of sex, booze and arrests in the past. He never settled down and prefers the lush life. Until, one day, he decides to flee a movie set, apparently for no reason apart from an existential crisis. He searches for anonymity in his small home town, visiting his mother for the first time in 30 years and discovers he might have had a child with one of his on-the-road conquests. This realization sends the middle-aged man on a search which confronts him with his own past, the way he has lived his life and what he could have done with it, had he decided to live it another way. But don't expect a morality tale: Wenders and Shepard are too intelligent for that. True to his instincts, Howard will persist in his erratic behavior till the very end. In short, in an age of comic book movies, "Don't Come Knocking" holds you onto your seat with a story that lets us breathe a bit of humanity. Wonderful performances, with kudos to Jessica Lange, maybe in her best performance ever. And we still get a homage to John Ford with images of Monument Valley and the large expenses of the West. Truly, a gem of a movie!
I really wanted to like Don't Come Knocking. It's a contemporary
Western by famed German director Wim Wenders, written by Pulitzer-Prize
winner (and stud actor) Sam Sheppard, and including in the cast Sam's
main squeeze (and my first crush) Jessica Lange. With these
credentials, I would have bet that Don't Come Knocking would have been
in my Top 5 at Sundance this year.
Not even close.
Here's my #1 criterion for judging a movie: Did I care about the characters? Love 'em or hate 'em, either one is OK, they just have to mean enough to me to care about what happens to them. And unfortunately, I didn't care two hoots about Howard Spence (Sheppard), the washed-up Western actor who tries to escape his past of hard living and general selfishness. I didn't even care about Doreen (Lange), a former girlfriend from a movie shot in Butte, Montana. And I certainly didn't care about Earl (Gabriel Mann), Doreen's son, no matter how over-the-top obnoxious his behavior. Maybe I did care for Sky, the Butte native played by the remarkable Sarah Polley, who was clearly the most likable and the only truly compelling character in the movie. And Tim Roth's portrayal of the studio bond man was interesting at least.
But beyond character development, this movie just didn't have any direction, suffering from the thinnest of story lines and a pace that often needed a quick kick from Howard Spence's spurs. It does feature some interesting locations and beautiful southern Utah landscapes. But that's not why we go to movies.
Wenders and Sheppard go back to their collaboration on Paris, Texas in 1984, and they spoke very fondly of each other during the Q&A. They collaborated on the story over a period of years and have looked for a chance to work together again. I wish they would have produced something better.
Interesting Tidbit from the Q&A: Sheppard's son Jesse is an expert horseman and did his father's riding stunts for the movie. Sam Sheppard also rides well, but his contract limited his riding to a trot.
Second Interesting Tidbit: Wenders has wanted to shoot a film in Butte for twenty years, since his first visit there, and was concerned that someone else would film there before him.
Wim Wenders has done it again. The authentic German American filmmaker has recaptured the nostalgia of the American West influenced by photographer Robert Frank and feeding off plot themes by his contemporary, Jim Jarmusch. But much like all of Wenders films, his plots are not the central focus. He is interested in details, symbolism, existentialism and the process of creation. What I always liked about Wenders was his taste in music. I always hear something new that I get very interested in. Don't Come Knocking has a wonderful score.The Buena Vista Social Club is an obvious example, but there is also the music of Madredeus in Lisbon Story or the Stewart Copeland country score in "Kings of the Road'. speaking of "Kings of the Road", there is an interesting detail that is repeated in this film: At the end of Kings, there is a cinema with a broken neon sign that only has two letters lit "WW" which is the signature of Wim Wenders. This film, has a bar called the "M&M". which is the same only upside down. The story of this film by the way is co-written by Sam Shepard who collaborated with Wenders on "Paris Texas" . This time, he also stars in the film as a cowboy movie star on the search for his ex and his son who he never met. The landscapes reflect the ghostliness of an Edward Hopper painting. Few people exist in the town where he shows up. There are beautiful shots that are very memorable such as the view from the health club looking out the window where Shepard and Jessica Lange are fighting. Another great scene involves a trade in identity where a guy on a horse gets pulled over by a cop and ....well you'll see. Alhough this film symbolizes the transition to reality, it looks as though reality does not appear to be as real as one expects. This is a refreshing film by one of the great filmmakers of our time.
Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard let you walk in the boots of a guy who's
stepping out of his pitiful daily life to face the past and find out
how this can be both hard and rewarding. Wender's beautiful slow moving
style to unfold the story lets you follow and feel what's going on
within the "hero" and the people he encounters. The marvelous scenery
of the West is shot to remind you of some scenes of "Thelma and
Louise". The music blends in wonderfully. The interactions are almost
every time worked out in every detail and dialogs sound so real you can
imagine this to happen in your neighborhood. Last not least all of it
is played by an outstanding group of actors making it very hard to
decide who'd be your favorite which adds to complete the reason why
this movie is excellent to me.
Funny scenes, laughter and deep emotions - if you're a lover of fast-food (movies) - don't go. You'd probably find it boring.
119 minutes that's a relatively long runtime for a movie. But that
doesn't have to mean it'll be boring. The sparse dialog in this movie
isn't really what it's all about anyway. It's all about the emotions
and the amazing pictures.
Sam Shepard portrays his role so wonderfully that you can sense his frustration with his life and his search for some meaning and his longing to change his ways.
Eva Marie Saint is equally adept at her portrayal of the old western actor's mom.
Jessica Lange, though, is truly outstanding. She steals the movie with one scene in particular and really deserves an award for her work in this film.
At the end of the day: this is Wim Wenders as we know him and as we like him best.
While filming "The Phanton of the Desert" in the middle of nowhere in
Moab, Utah City, the washed-out veteran actor Howard Spence (Sam
Shepard) has an existential crisis and leaves the location riding a
horse. Howard was a famous cowboy in western movies in the past, but is
decadent due to his reckless and explosive behavior, abusive use of
booze and drugs and scandalous affairs with many women. Howard gets
some money, destroys his credit cards, rents a car and takes a bus
later to Elko, his hometown in Nevada. He meets his mother, who tells
him that he has a son. He drives to Butte, Montana, where he finds the
former waitress Doreen (Jessica Lange), her son Earl (Gabriel Mann),
the mysterious Sky (Sarah Polley) with the ghosts he left behind and
the life that he could have had. Meanwhile, the production calls the
insurance company that sends the investigator Sutter (Tim Roth) to
"Don't Come Knocking" is an original and sad story about existential and identity crisis of a man that reaches the third age with his career and personal life in a complete mess, totally disconnected from family and friends and maybe missing a different lifestyle with a family of his own. He decides to meet his past, but always chased by his troubled present with younger women and alcohol. The direction of Wim Wenders is effective as usual, supported by engaging story, screenplay and dialogs in partnership with the lead actor Sam Shepard. The acting is top-notch, and the locations especially in the beginning and in the casino have magnificent cinematography. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Estrela Solitária" ("Lonely Star")
Don't Come Knocking (2005)
A disappointing attempt at gritty Western aura, movie insider savvy, and creative parallel plotting and editing. It has elements of camp, of post-modern drama (references to earlier movies or movie types), and even some genuine sincerity.
There is a terrific George Kennedy, who is still active and very much making movies with his over-sized persona. There are smaller roles by several women, including a wan and frankly dull if pretty Sarah Polley. And mostly there is Sam Shepard being Sam Shepard, which is pretty good stuff. But he plays a famous actor who walks off a cheesy movie shoot into reality, and for the rest of the movie is walking as if in a dream through a reality he never quite knew existed.
I think this looked great on paper. At least until someone read the script. It just doesn't hold water, partly for the simple fact that we couldn't care less about most of these folk. In particular, the movie makers, the directors and execs are playing meaningless roles that might mean something to insiders, but to the rest of us (I'm not an insider, thankfully), it's self-indulgent and, well, boring.
What works best? Well, since the story pushes you out you look at the performances straight up, and some, like Shepard's, are strong (he reminds me of Woody Harrelson in this film, for some reason). There's the music (by T-Bone Burnett), an often used electric guitar sound with a country twang that is appealing and sometimes even evocative. And there is the filming, which is unadorned and very nice, depending on some amazing scenes, and the light and color in them. If there is ever an Oscar for scouting, for period sets that hype up the truth of a certain period, this is a good candidate. Certainly the light is romantically appealing.
But I'm stretching to see the best in a plodding film that had potential and lost its velocity very early on.
It has to be added that the director, Wim Wenders, has done some amazing work, and has his own following. But he might be trying to cash in on "Paris, Texas" which has its own small cult following, and which at least has a quirky and disturbing element to it. Here it is mostly a matter of wandering in the modern wilderness, and Wenders, I really believe, is not quite in touch with what makes America America. It feels cold and superficial. See his "Wings of Desire" for a masterpiece. Here? Have patience. Oh...and enjoy the scenery!
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