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Sony Picture Classics presents
"There is every indication that Mr. Spence is involved in totally irresponsible behavior, not unlike many members of his profession."
DVD ReviewIn 1984, acclaimed German director Wim Wenders delivered a wonderful film adaptation of a play by award-winning writer Sam Shepard. Paris, Texas offered a mournful tale about a tortured loner (Harry Dean Stanton) attempting to connect with his past life. Supported by an excellent score from Ry Cooder (Buena Vista Social Club), this compelling story is one of the filmmaker's best works. More than 20 years later, Wenders and Shepard have combined forces again to create another sad tale of a lost individual. Can they achieve another magical result?
Don't Come Knocking stars Shepard as Howard Spence, a washed-up actor who once starred in major Hollywood movies. While filming a C-level western in Utah, he jumps on a horse and leaves without giving any explanation. Clad in the old-style gear reminiscent of a low-rent John Wayne, Howard stands out amidst the trailer parks and strip malls of the new west. His first destination is his mother's (Eva Marie Saint) house in Elko, Nevada, and we quickly learn that our "hero" may not be such a gallant figure. In their first meeting in 30 years, she acts the part of the doting mother, but the tension is highly evident. Howard's numerous scandals with drugs, women, and the law aren't worth the energy, and the weariness shows on both their faces.
The primary story kicks into gear when Howard arrives in Butte, Montana, the apparent home of an adult son he never knew. Played by Gabriel Mann, Earl croons sad songs at the local bar and lives with a dumb, adoring girl (Fairuza Balk) with few prospects. Howard's arrival is not the event he's hoping to see, and the result is several fiery confrontations. Earl's mother Doreen (Jessica Lange) appears friendlier to the situation, but her emotions for the old actor are long gone. She is willing to humor him and get things moving with her son, but a rekindled romance looks impossible. If these difficulties weren't enough, a mysterious young woman (Sarah Polley) arrives to add another wrinkle to the mix.
What is Howard's purpose in this journey? He seems to have no idea what to do about Earl or Doreen, and his presence only makes things worse for them. The studios have hired a stone-faced investigator (Tim Roth) to find him, but even the possibility of getting caught doesn't seem to faze him. Howard bumbles through conversations and says very little, but he's not really the strong, silent type either. Any comparisons to John Wayne would only reveal this guy's many inadequacies. In the hands of a Hollywood filmmaker, this set-up would lead to some minor obstacles, but in the end everything would come together perfectly. Wenders is a much different type of director, but we get the sense that he's struggling here to complete the story. Shepard's writing shifts quickly and meanders through some jumbled conversations, which makes the ultimate destination even harder to predict.
Don't Come Knocking offers a stunning Western landscape marred by ugly vehicles, casino lights, and dull buildings. The opening shots reveal the majestic spires of Monument Valley, the setting for many of John Ford's classic Westerns. As the camera pans across, we see the blemish of movie trailers, which appear sacrilegious next to the iconic scenery. Throughout the film, Wenders and Cinematographer Franz Lustig provide plenty of worthy images, but the story falls short of matching the themes conveyed. T-Bone Burnett's simple, melodic score adds to the impressive atmosphere. Unfortunately, Howard's story fails to live up to the high expectations generated by these images. Shepard, Lange, and Roth perform solidly, but they can only do so much with the convoluted material. Confusing plot elements and a sloppy ending keep the story from achieving its potential, but it should offer an interesting experience for viewers willing to take the journey.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The barren Western landscapes of Utah and Montana are presented well on this effective 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Their sharp contrast with the sparkling lights of the casino helps to enhance this picture's interest. The grain levels are pretty minimal, and the black levels remain solid throughout the film. This presentation conveys the impressive scenery consistently and delivers a worthwhile viewing experience.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: This release includes a solid 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track that helps T-Bone Burnett's minimalist score come to life. Using just a few guitar notes at a time, his music evokes the feeling of the classic Westerns. The audio utilizes the entire sound field, but it lacks the high level of detail offered by the top-notch transfers. The dialogue is clear and well-balanced with the music, however, which leads to a rewarding track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Friends with Money, L'enfant, Quincearnera, Art School Confidential, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Sketches of Frank Gehry, Cache, Mountain Patrol: Kekexili, Why We Fight, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Lies and Alibis
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Wim Wenders
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: Don't Come Knocking provides a small collection of bonus features that offer some worthy information on the film. The individual extras are described in the sections below:
Commentary with Director Wim Wenders
The renowned German filmmaker has crafted many wonderful films, but his commentary tracks can be a difficult listen for the casual viewer. His low-key demeanor and accent is tough, but Wenders does provide plenty of informative material during this feature-length commentary. It's too bad that Sam Shepard was not included on this track, though his absence is not a surprise.
NY City Premiere Featurette (18:21)
This segment focuses on the March 9, 2006 screening of the film at the Director's Guild of America Theatre. Wenders, Gabriel Mann, and Jessica Lange pose outside for countless pictures and then go inside to watch the picture. The director briefly introduces the film, and the group covers the basic issues in a concluding Q&A.
Sundance Featurette (12:07)
This entertaining feature moves between interview clips and shots of the cast and crew promoting the film. Wenders discusses the five-year creation process required to finally bringing his vision to the screen. Shepard even joins him on stage at the Eccles Theater and draws an enthusiastic response. Sarah Polley, Fairuza Balk and others also comment on their experience.
Interview with Eva Marie Saint and Wim Wenders (4:59)
The director and longtime Hollywood actress share a brief interview during this genial feature. Saint discusses keeping balance of acting with her personal life, and describes how this aspect is missing in Howard's life. We also receive more information on Shepard's unique working style.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsDon't Come Knocking was a labor of love for director Wim Wenders, who spent more than five years bringing the story to the screen with Sam Shepard. The story evokes a feeling of the loss of the Old West, but isn't sure where it wants them to finish. Strong work from the ensemble cast and impressive photography helps the picture considerably, but it falls short of expectations.
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