I was so worn out from a week of school and working a SXSW volunteer shift on Friday that I didn't see any films on Friday night. After a long day working another volunteer shift on Saturday, I went to see my first film of the festival Saturday evening.
When choosing between the many options, I take into account several factors. Premise, past work of the director and/or writers, whether it already has distribution (and therefore can be seen at a later date), and whether it's a documentary or narrative film (docs are usually better, IMHO). This time I went because I wanted to hang out with some friends and Sarah Polley was in the movie. It didn't hurt that it was directed by Wim Wenders, the creator of a personal favorite of mine, Wings of Desire.
For Don't Come Knocking, Wenders has collaborated again with writer/actor Sam Shepard. The story concerns Howard Spence (Shepard), a washed-up star of Westerns who has boozed, snorted, and whored his way through life. As the film starts, Spence flees the set of his latest film. Pursued by an investigator (Tim Roth) sent to bring him back to the set, Spence hides out with his mother (Eva Marie Saint) who reminds him that he has a child from a dalliance with a woman (Jessica Lange) many years ago when he was shooting a film in Butte, MT. Spence then sets out to find this child. At the same time, a young woman (Sarah Polley) is also on her way to Butte to scatter the ashes of her mother.
While maintaining the beauty and measured pace that are hallmarks of his work, Wenders is adrift with this film, though I lay most of the blame for this on Shepard. It's tiresome to be expected to care much for a character who cut himself off from family and friends, lead a life of "rebellious" actor debauchery, and now wants to reconnect. I suppose we're to understand that he was a troubled man and now he just wants to make good. To which I say, "Too little, too late asshole." Especially the wounded, huffy way he goes about it. I had zero empathy for him. It doesn't help that Shepard, both as an actor and a writer, again trots out the tired cliche of the misunderstood Marlboro Man. At least with Brokeback Mountain, the world really didn't get Ennis Del Mar and he had a decent reason for being sullen, uncommunicative, and tightly-wound.
The film has its moments. The cinematography is gorgeous and Wenders knows how to shoot a scene. T-Bone Burnett yet again comes up with great musical accompaniment. Sarah Polley is reliably great, Jessica Lange makes the most of her flatly written role, and Tim Roth and Fairuza Balk bring a lot of humor to the proceedings. That in itself is noteworthy as Wenders is not known for having a great sense of humor in his films. In the Q&A afterwards, Shepard told the story of seeing a clown once who told the audience, "What's the opposite of comedy? Germany." To which Wenders, a German, added, "I never heard that before. There is some truth to it."
Despite its bright spots, Don't Come Knocking ranks far below Wenders and Shepard's previous collaboration Paris, TX. Speaking of, I'm experiencing a lot of interconnectedness this year. Paris, TX features a child actor named Hunter Carson. I went to high school with Hunter, who has also shown a short film at SXSW.