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"Don't Come Knocking": A resonant search for a home on the range
Seattle Times arts critic
Weather-beaten and craggy, Sam Shepard's handsome face has aged into a kind of Mount Rushmore monument to stubborn theatrical hipsterdom. His near-total lack of vanity (OK, his hair is dyed to erase the gray) is poignant in Wim Wenders' "Don't Come Knocking," which stars Shepard in a role that fits him like a pair of custom-made cowboy boots.
This new film by director Wenders and screenwriter Shepard isn't up to the level of their iconic 1984 matchup, "Paris, Texas" (in which Shepard did not perform). The laconic pacing, bone-dry humor and sketchy story line here may, indeed, bore the spurs off some viewers.
But for those in tune with Shepard's oeuvre; Wenders' sly, muted tone; and the exquisite cinematography of Franz Lustig, "Don't Come Knocking" can be quirkily resonant.
It revisits many concerns of Shepard's earlier plays and films: the erosion of the mythic and physical Old West; absent fathers and angry sons; the soul-rotting allure of big-time American success.
Embodying it all is Howard (Shepard), a crusty, 60ish star of movie Westerns whose past is a blur of booze, sex and violent escapades. While working on a film in the desert, Howard impulsively gallops off (like cowboys of old) in search of himself.
His wary but unflappable mother (played by the ever-luminous Eva Marie Saint) welcomes her dazed son back to the family home in Elko, Nev. — once a pioneer outpost, now garishly blighted with neon casinos and fast-food joints.
Howard soon takes off again — for Butte, Mont. — to elude a creepy insurance investigator (Tim Roth) hired by the film company. There he encounters an old flame (Shepard's real-life mate, Jessica Lange) and her rocker son Earl (magnetic Gabriel Mann), whom Howard fathered but hasn't met.
The family reunion (which also includes Sarah Polley as maybe another adult kid of Howard's) is messy, meandering, anti-climactic. Sometimes the actors seem to be rustling up their own sputtering dialogue. But that very incoherence feels true to Howard's wasted life, and his inchoate longings to belong to something.
"Don't Come Knocking" is a mood piece — but not a humorless one. And its moods are enhanced by T-Bone Burnett's music and, especially, by Lustig's cinematography. Through his lens, Butte is an antique ghost town with lots of room for arty misfits. And the desert, despite all we've done to it, endures in its painterly, sun-drenched majesty.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company