Telluride: Bryan Cranston Commands Attention in 'Wakefield' (Analysis)

Wakefield - Still 1 - H - 2016
Courtesy of TIFF

The first night of the 43rd Telluride Film Festival concluded with the world premiere of Wakefield, a low-budget adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's 2008 short story of the same title that was written and directed for the screen by Robin Swicord. Despite a 10 p.m. start at the Werner Herzog Cinema, the film, which does not yet have a distributor, was warmly received, thanks mostly to a tour de force performance by Oscar nominee and four-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston.

While some festivalgoers knocked it for its very literary feel (there's a lot of voiceover narration, Robert McKee will be disappointed to learn), many others were won over by Cranston, one of the most interesting and versatile actors in the business. He plays the title character, an emotionally damaged man who simply decides one day not to go home to his wife (Jennifer Garner, making a lot out of a little) and daughters. Rather, he decides to watch them from afar (Alfred Hitchcock would have loved this guy).

Rare is the film that gets made — or recognized by the Academy — with a protagonist as unsympathetic as this one, particularly when that protagonist never really changes. And it's hard to think of many actors besides Cranston who could make audiences pay attention to and all but root for such an unappealing person. But, despite being alone onscreen for most of the movie, that's precisely what Cranston does. Indeed, he keeps things interesting in a film that engenders more questions than answers. And, if Wakefield does get a decent release this year, he could be someone to watch in what is shaping up as an unusually thin lead-actor race.