The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Wakefield is a must-see for fans of Bryan Cranston. The actor has been regularly giving tour-de-force performances in recent years on Breaking Bad, in Trumbo, and now here. Writer/director Robin Swicord (The Jane Austen Book Club) adapts E.L. Doctorow's story about a man in the midst of an emotional crisis who makes a radical decision. Because it's an inherently internal story, having an actor of Cranston's caliber to make it come alive is absolutely vital.

He plays Howard Wakefield, a lawyer at a prestigious New York law firm. In addition to a great job, he has a beautiful wife, Diana (Jennifer Garner), two daughters, and a gorgeous home in the suburbs. But Howard isn't happy, for reasons he can't quite articulate to himself. Something about having it all leaves him unsatisfied. One day, instead of walking through the front door after work, he goes into the attic above his garage, where he stays for the better part of a year, watching the family that believes he's gone missing. The film shows what he learns about himself during this time of self-imposed hiding.

Much of Wakefield consists of Howard sitting in that attic, observing how Diana and the girls carry on their day-to-day lives in his absence. He talks to himself and comments (though voiceover) on what he witnesses. Occasionally he sneaks out to root through the garbage for food, grab a quick shower in the neighbor's pool house, or empty the bucket he uses for a toilet. There's a humorous quality to showing how he devises ways to maintain himself without being spotted.

At the same time, the story has real profundity. Walter doesn't initially intend to stay away so long. He's merely giving himself a break. Then he realizes that he likes the break and doesn't want it to end. That feeling gradually shifts. He sees Diana and the girls carry on without him, reconciling his disappearance and moving forward with their lives. They laugh again. They don't sit around mourning him forever. They may want him, but they don't need him. That realization forces him to reevaluate his perspective on his family and himself. Howard is surprised at the conclusions he comes to.

Cranston is brilliant in the lead role, creating a portrait of a man whose fundamental inability to define the reasons for his unhappiness causes him to act desperately. He brings out the fluctuating emotions as Howard struggles to make sense of how Diana reacts in light of his mysterious vanishing. We go through the whole range of emotions with this character, and Cranston's precise work ensures that we care, even if we can't condone Howard's choices. Jennifer Garner also does very good work. Her best scenes are in flashback, as we see the kinds of strains that came between Diana and Howard.

At 106 minutes, Wakefield might be just a bit long, considering that much of it is a man hiding in an attic. The pace could be tightened just a little bit in a few spots. Even so, the way the movie puts us in Howard's mind is effective, and the story builds to a perfect final scene guaranteed to have you thinking and debating it long after it's over.

You don't easily shake this film off, which makes it something quite special.

( out of four)

Wakefield is rated R for some sexual material and language. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.

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