Combining two renaissance men like Sam Shepard (THE RIGHT STUFF, 1983) and Wim Wenders (director of PARIS, TEXAS which also starred Shepard) could seem like a golden film opportunity. I'd heard quite a bit of buzz about DON'T COME KNOCKING before its release and was pretty excited to finally sit down and watch it.
The story is about Howard Spence (Shepard), a cowboy movie star who's approaching the downside of his aging career. At 60, Howard still lives the life of a starling; he drinks, drugs and sexes himself into oblivion nightly. But (for unknown reasons) he has a bad night on the set of a lame film and decides to flee the production in hopes of finding what lay for him beyond the camera. His history is as scattered as his drug-induced years of debauchery and Howard quickly discovers that he has children in the world. Two children. He visits his mother (Eva Marie Sant, NORTH BY NORTHWEST) in Elko, Nevada and she tells him of a woman who'd called years before claiming to be the mother of his son. At first Howard doesn't believe it, but recollections filter in and he goes in search of his kids. But he also has to evade a bounty hunter named Sutter (Tim Roth, PULP FICTION) who was hired by the film studio to get Howard back to the movie he'd abandoned.
Both of Howard's kids' are now adults living lives of their own. We're first introduced to Sky (Sarah Polley, DAWN OF THE DEAD, 2004) who just cremated her mother. She's a withdrawn and quiet woman who easily picks up on who her father is when she sees him lurking around Butte, Montana. The second adult kid is Earl (Gabriel Mann, THE BOURNE IDENTITY), a modern blues singer with a chip the size of a boulder resting on him. His mother, Doreen (Jessica Lange, ROB ROY), tries to ease the news of his father's arrival but is too late. Twenty years of fatherlessness flares, and Howard and he nearly come to blows.
As Howard tries to understand life (his own) he constantly gets knocked around. Those who carry his bloodline want nothing to do with him, indicating to Howard that he should simply return to the film set. When the bounty hunter catches up with him, it's little surprise that Howard puts up no resistance.
An alternate title for the film might've been "You Can Never Come Home" because that is its basic message. Although we're not privy to Howard's thoughts, we can assume that since he's coming to the end of his acting career and his life, he's looking for something meaningful to justify his existence. Of course, children are the ultimate justification, but when they reject you, what's left?
The color schemes and filming are visually stunning, but certain scene-to-scene edits were herky-jerky and some embittered relationships felt forced (most notably that of Howard and his son, Earl). Jessica Lange was flawless, though. She's such a fantastic actress. Sam Shepard did an "okay" job with an interesting script but I felt little (if any) emotional weight from his character.
A big problem with the film was that, on one definitive level, it's a Hollywood flick about Hollywood people. The self-importance of actors and actresses has never appealed to me and this might bother quite a few viewers. But tying it in with those of a shattered family dynamic made the movie easier to swallow.
Still, this is an interesting indie film that surpasses some of the trite junk currently gracing the silver screen.