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USA 2005
Directed by
Wim Wenders
111 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Don't Come Knocking

Synopsis: Howard Spence (Sam Shepard) is an almost 60-year-old jaded Hollywood Western actor, who's led a hard wild life. He is shooting yet another hackneyed western, when he simply gets on his horse, rides off the set and goes to Utah to visit his mother (Eva Marie Saint) who he hasn't seen for 30 years. Hot on his trail is Sutter (Tim Roth), sent by the film guarantors to bring Howard back. But when Howard learns from his mother that he could have fathered a child up in Montana 20 years ago he goes in search of his past and something he never had: family. When the mysterious young woman Sky (Sarah Polley) starts to dog him, he is in for more surprises than he could have imagined.

Don’t Come Knocking is a deliciously deceptive film about much deeper themes than is initially apparent. The opening shot is a clever reference to the Lone Ranger - a pair of seeming eye holes in a mask, but as the camera pulls back they are part of the natural features in a barren desert landscape, where the shooting of "Phantom of the West" is taking place. And so, subtly, the themes of aloneness and emptiness are introduced.

We might at first think this is a story about a washed-up movie star, but it's secondary that Howard is a actor. What's critical is that he is a lonely man who has missed his chances, and as the plot develops that he comes to realise just how much he regrets those missed opportunities in his squandered life.

Shepard has the craggy looks and laconic style to be a Western hero, but also the introspection to convince us that he is in a life crisis, running away from himself. The love of his life, who Howard revisits after years, is waitress Doreen, played by Shepard's real life wife, the sexy Jessica Lange and the powerful interactions between these two are so deeply suffused with the sort of life regrets we can all relate to. Marie Saint, first seen more than half a century ago in On the Waterfront, is convincing as Howard's mum, who, despite the years of absence, still has her boy's best interests at heart. The out-of-place, dogged Englishman Sutter, played by Tim Roth brings a quirky character to the plot, and Roth shows he has a fine instinct for low-key deadpan comedy. The ever-sensitive Sarah Polley is strong as Sky, who manages to smooth the ruffled edges of many of the other characters. Rounding out the cast is Gabriel Mann as talented, but angry young musician, Earl, and Fairuza Balk as his Goth girlfriend, Amber. Together this fine ensemble cast take turns to shine, portraying damaged people who all have big holes in their lives.

Some people may feel certain scenes are unbelievable, such as when Howard sits the entire night on a sofa which Earl has pitched out of his window. But it is in these almost surreal and understated scenes that the film truly excels, using camera angles, facial expressions, and few words to convey deep emotion.

Wenders and Shepard collaborated 20 years ago on the iconic Paris, Texas, and here again they create a not dissimilar feel with Wenders' unique perception of the American west flavoring the film. He also revisits the themes of alienation and estranged families. Just as that film had Ry Cooder's very distinctive guitar music, so here T-Bone Burnett has created a fabulous score, including the wonderfully poignant song "He's a Lonely Man".




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