Dont Come Knocking reunites German Director Win Wenders with actor/writer Sam Shepard 20 years after their initial collaboration on Paris, Texas, which won them the Golden Palm at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.
The intervening years have seen Wenders produce films of varying quality, Wings Of Desire standing out, but Shepard has had a remarkably astute career, both acting successfully (he has been Oscar nominated) and continuing to write plays and screenplays, such as Zabriske Point and Far North.
Dont Come Knocking tells the quintessential American tale of a lost soul seeking redemption against a backdrop of huge vistas and alcohol sodden roads. Shepard plays Howard Spence, a once successful actor now reduced to playing B-movies for cocaine cash.
He wakes one morning after a bender on the set of his latest Western and just leaves, deserting cast and crew. Initially, he heads to see his mother, played beautifully by Eva Saint Marie, from whom hes been estranged from for 30 years.
This short stay leads to the revelation that Howard might have a son in Butte, Montana, where 30 years before he made his first film and had a short affair with a local waitress named Doreen, played by Shepards real life partner Jessica Lange.
Arriving in Butte, just ahead of the private investigator (Tim Roth) hired to recover him to the film set, Howard attempts to reconcile his past and bring his future, by way of his newly discovered family, into play. The result of which is a quietly meandering and beautifully set film that almost satisfies.
Shepard hits the mark as the protagonist Howard, lost and searching, his past consumed by alcohol and drugs, and he captures this with a subtle, intriguing and quiet performance, emotions kept hidden beneath the deep wrinkles of his eyes. But this isnt a man to like, to enjoy or to empathise with and certainly sympathies are more with Doreen, the woman he left behind 30 years ago, surprised to see him but strangely unphased by his return.
Lange offers a strange mix of intuition and overacting in her performance and we can see the subtlety as she greets his surprised return with both anger and delight, but it doesnt quite strike the right chord; indeed, she feels a bit miscast. Lange is a superb actress but her distracting facelift and beauty feel out of synch with Doreens life as a waitress in a back of beyond town.
What should have been an interesting interplay between reunited father and son also feels stilted. Gabriel Mann plays Earl, the moody alt-country musician, wasting and wild, but Mann is unwilling to become the long lost son and his performance doesnt leave the page either. He appears almost embarrassed by the emotional father/son scenes. Sarah Polley however, who plays Howards daughter Amber, is an actress to watch out for.
The wonderful Tim Roth could wear a paper bag and still be enthralling and although, as is often the case with Roth, his accent gets lost somewhere between Lewisham and California, he remains eminently watchable, despite his character being throwaway and underdeveloped.
Dont Come Knocking is a beautifully set film. Wenders is obsessed with Americana and the vast scenes of the Moab desert at the beginning are a delight, beautifully initiating the themes of loss and searching. But this is a story weve heard so many times and, as enjoyable as it is, Dont come Knocking would have to be something special to stand out. Unfortunately, it isnt.