Don't Come Knocking [DVD] 
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Oscar(r) Nominee Sam Shepard (Best Supporting Actor, The Right Stuff 1983) and Academy Award nominated director Wim Wenders (Best Documentary Feature, Buena Vista Social Club 1999) reunite for their first collaboration since the critically acclaimed Paris, Texas in this delightful tale about second chances. Howard Spence was once one of Hollywood's hottest movie stars. Now he's a washed up actor barely making it through the day. So on the set of his latest western film he decides to flee and visit his mother (Oscar(r) winner Eva Marie Saint, Best Supporting Actress, On The Waterfront 1954) for the first time in 30 years. To his surprise he discovers that he might have a grown up child (Gabriel Mann, The Bourne Supremacy) living in a small town in Montana, where he once had a fling with a local waitress (2-Time Oscar(r) winner Jessica Lange, Best Supporting Actress, Tootsie 1982 & Best Actress, Blue Sky 1994). Things get even more complicated when the film company sends an insuranc
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The protagonist here is Howard Spence (Sam Shepard), an aging actor, who in the opening scene rides off one day from the movie he's shooting in the Montana landscape. His journey takes him to his mother -- Eva Marie Saint, looking good and acting with fine comic self-possession -- and eventually in Butte to children he didn't know he had fathered. Importantly for the movie's tone, this journey is not one of a tormented soul. Howard's decampment from the movie shoot seems more like typical bad behavior -- he seems to have acquired a reputation for being unreliable -- and as played by Shepard (and Shepard did the script along with Wenders), Howard is wry and rueful rather than soul-stricken; at times he seems surprised to be where he is and unsure of what comes next. Shepard gives a nice, understated comic performance of this character, and in a fine scene near the end, where he tells Doreen, the mother of one of his hitherto-unknown children, that he came back to Butte for her, she doesn't believe him, and it's clear that he doesn't really believe it himself. It's not that he might not mind reconnecting with the woman (Jessica Lange, doing country-resourceful faded beauty quite well), but it certainly wasn't true that he went to Butte with any clear notion of that. He's just making it up as he goes along.
What gives the story its backbone, though, is the fact that two characters, unknown to each other, take it upon themselves to call Howard back to responsibility and become searchers for him. One is Sutter, a representative of an insurance company that wants to get him back to work on the movie he left so that his company won't be liable. He is played by Tim Roth, in a wonderful, again low-key, comic performance that almost steals the movie. He is the total opposite of Howard. He is meticulous, unadventurous, dogged, and deeply pessimistic about the world, and his response to that is a refusal to do anything that's outside the rigid structure that he has made of his life. His conversation late in the movie with Jessica Lange about the difference between hash browns and home-fries (both of which are totally unfamiliar to him) is just marvelous, as is his suspicion of Howard's mother's unfamiliar cookies. (It's he who says something like, "The Black Death, the Inquisition . . . has anything really changed?") His task is to call Howard back to professional responsibilities, symbolized by the contract he had signed to do the movie. The other searcher, Sky, is played by Sarah Polley as a daughter he never knew about. She too gives a nice comic performance, following Howard in Butte, carrying in a pseudo-Grecian urn her mother's ashes. She is as open and trusting as Roth's character is tight and pessimistic, and suffice it to say that by the end, they get what they want from Howard, and Howard is OK with it. Also good is Gabriel Mann as Earl, Howard's son, who is NOT glad to see him, and his odd but basically good-hearted Goth girlfriend played by Fairuza Balk
The movie isn't "dark" at all, but it manages to touch on veins of feeling that are handled very credibly and surely, without upsetting the overall wry comic tone of the movie. These involve interactions among Howard, his son, and his son's mother (Lange's character, Doreen). The "redemption" scene -- or what stands in for it in this movie -- involves Howard, Sutter, Sky, Earl, and his Goth girl, and is perfectly attuned to the pervading tone of the movie, which makes it amusing as well as touching. This isn't a great movie, but it's a good one -- unpretentious and charming, and actors and director never put a foot wrong.
The story, such as it is, deals a theme Wenders has returned to again and again. It is a sort of " modern man in search of a soul" idea. Like" Paris, Texas" it consists of a sort of meditation on the American Landscape, interlaced with American popular music as a background to a more corporeal narrative, dealing with a man and his relationships.
The film starts with its principal character Howard Spence, an actor played by Sam Shepard, walking out the film he is performing in to go in search of......well, what?
In attempt to make sense of his life he goes to visit his mother, played by Eva Marie Saint (yes, she who played Edie Doyle in "On the Waterfront" all those years ago.) He soon goes in search of his former lover Doreen, played by Jessica Lange and the son they had together played by Gabriel Mann. This personal odyssey take him to Butte, Montana, the home of his abandoned family. The Lange character is working as waitress in a coffee shop and his son is a singer in a bar. This allows Wenders to introduce a concert scene, continuing his long established tradition of blending popular music with high art. Jessica Lange continues her tradition of high voltage acting, presumably on one of the days when she was not having hysterics at the thought of George Bush.
In directorial terms, the film is a tour de force. Brilliantly realized shots are achieved, from the sight of diagonal sunlight falling across the vernacular American architecture of Butte to cinematography which captures the poetry of the American landscape. Some movie buffs will tell you that a film like John Ford's "The Searchers" is a visual masterpiece, famed for its depiction of the American Landscape. I have always viewed that claim with a certain amount of scepticism. Admittedly, this a view that is arguably based on nothing but snobbery. The idea that the European movie equals artistry but that its American equivalent must always simply be a commercial product is surely aesthetic snobbery. Here, however, we have a film which surpasses the work of American directors with the sheer artistry of its interpretation of America. If there is a fault with the visual quality of this film, it is that the imagery is rather too indebted to the paintings of Edward Hopper.
In one scene, the Sam Shepard character walks into a casino. He is in a space surrounded by green neon lights reminiscent of a piece of installation art or some high-tech Japanese architecture. In a way, it sums up this film. It is for lovers of the visual arts rather than those who appreciate drama communicated through either the spoken or written word.
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