Don't Come Knocking is such a visually beautiful film and it's also superbly acted by Sam Shepard and the formidable Jessica Lange - complete with plastic surgery - but dramatically the film is rather inert and ultimately suffers from a sort of portentous and stodgy directorial style, which hampers what could have been a very fine film.
Directed by Wim Wenders, Don't Come Knocking is Largely set in Montana, and the scenery is absolutely stunning. Often occupying more than half the screen, the sky is like a character in the movie, which has a bright, distinct and totally vibrant look and ends up being the most interesting character in the film.
The movie stars Sam Shepard as a washed-up aging movie star Howard Spence. We first meet him just as he's disappeared from the set of a western in which he is starring. A 60-year-old drug- and alcohol-abusing playboy, Howard heads for home in Elko, Nev., a place he hasn't been in 30 years. We aren't quite sure why he's going there, we can only assume that he's having some kind of mid-life crisis.
Of course, the film is left in turmoil, but Howard doesn't care, he's like a little boy who is off exploring and he's oblivious to the chaos that he's causing. A no-nonsense representative of the bond company who is insuring the movie Sutter (Tim Roth) swoops in by helicopter and begins tracking the badly behaved cowboy.
While in Elko, Howard's reunion with his elderly mother (Eva Marie Saint) is cut short by the revelation that he has a twenty something son from a one night stand on a film shoot in Butte, Montana, so off Howard goes, to reconnect with his past. Meanwhile, a young woman named Sky (Sarah Polley) arrives in Butte carrying an urn with her recently deceased mother's ashes. Howard and Sky intersect at the restaurant run by Howard's old flame, Doreen (Jessica Lange) who is rather amused that Howard has turned up after all these years.
At a nightclub he points out his son (Gabriel Mann), who has turned into a sort of moody musician Goth, and he's is not eager to embrace his new-found father. By far the most interesting person in the film is Doreen and kudos must go to Lange - who I still think is America's greatest living screen actress - as she brings Doreen's mixture of wistfulness and naughty giggling to life.
Don't Come Knocking suffers from being a bit in love with itself. True, the visual impact of the film is unarguable and the deserted streets of Butte look both stunning and haunted - nicely rendered by cinematographer Franz Lustig - deeply reflecting Wenders' own penchant for an American West etched with loneliness.
But the movie trundles along, almost grinding to a halt in the second act where it becomes mired in the mud of disconcerted family business, and the resolution is quite predicable. It's as though the story is desperately trying to work up enough momentum to go somewhere, but the film just never seems to budge.
Still, it's refreshing to see the talented Sam Shepard acting again - and playing a leading man, even though the character is a bit of a selfish oaf. And it's also a treat to see him acting with Lange, his wife. For Howard, life as a movie star has been one of irresponsibility and fun; fatherhood has been a mystery and when he confronts its reality, he is just as dumbstruck as he ever was.
It's far easier for the western loner to skip town and never look back, and Shepard does a fine job of bringing this almost childlike man to life with all his dysfunctions and insecurities, just an ordinary American man just yearning to connect. It's just a pity that Wenders couldn't find a way to tell Howard's story a bit more lucidly and with less pretentiousness. Mike Leonard August 06.