Subterranean Tales: Cranston great in mediocre ‘Wakefield”

Wakefield Limited release and VOD — *** (out of 5)

by Walter G. Tarrow

Have you ever just wanted to get away? To leave the rat race, that long trip to and from work, the demands of your job, your family, the trappings of a life filled with stuff, and the constant clamor, din, tintinnabulation of television and cyberspace behind? To step away, to retreat to the simplest of lives and watch the world go by without you? To live, to survive, without the comforts and certainty of our America made great again?

But will you be missed? Were you ever that important, needed, to begin with? Is your family, is your job, is your community, is your world better off without you? 

And these are the questions attorney Howard Wakefield finds himself asking after stumbling into his 21st century version of Walden. A late night return from the office, a power failure, and a raccoon, and Wakefield (Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad and Trumbo) finds himself hiding out in the attic above his garage. Then he decides to stay up there, and stay, and stay, and stay, and the days become weeks, then months. 

All the while he watches, his wife (whose love, whose devotion, whose faithfulness he doubts, played by Jennifer Garner famed of ads for Capital One), his mother-in-law (whom he despises), his twin daughters, his neighbors and the occasional interloper (whom he sees as threats to the life he left), watches hidden, from afar, voyeur extremis narrating his own personal reality TV show. He does venture into realms of imagination, fantasy and delusion from time to time in his contemplation of the reality he thought he knew and the consequences of his “sudden, unexplained disappearance.”

Having abandoned his home for the garage, he devolves into a denizen of the suburban wild, fighting Russian marauders and raccoons for the scraps left by the privileged of whom he once was. Accidentally discovered, he befriends, and is befriended by, two cognitively impaired young neighbors who simply help him when he needs help the most.

And then, when he fears that the world he knew is about to be lost, to be stolen from him, he prepares to return. But was Thomas Wolfe right, and you can’t go home again?

Cranston, as we’ve come to expect, does a magnificent job of being, becoming Wakefield, sharing his thoughts convincingly (Chris Rock is wrong; voice acting is not the easiest job in show biz). His transformation is total, complete and entirely believable. And not without some laughs.

However, in the final take, as was with Walden, Wakefield is a tale of privilege seeking deeper meaning. And, as such, rings as hollow as the kids “camping” in the back yard. It’s not really roughing it because you can always go home again.

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