You couldn't honestly call "Don't Come Knocking" a good movie -- well, not unless you had a different definition for "good," or "movie," than most -- but there's something compelling to it, even at its most insane.
This is not as weird as it sounds: "Don't Come Knocking" is the new film from Wim Wenders, the German art-house perennial whose filmography includes a couple of genuine classics ("Wings of Desire," "The American Friend"), a couple of spectacular disasters ("The End of Violence," "Million Dollar Hotel") and a lot in-between.
This project reunites Wenders with Sam Shepard, whose play "Paris, Texas" provided the skeleton for one of the in-betweens, some 20 years ago. Here, Shepard not only wrote the screenplay but stars as the dissolute Howard Spence, a cowboy actor a couple of decades past his prime who ups and flees the set of his latest production one fine morning, heading off for parts unknown.
Meanwhile, somewhere in America, a young woman (Sarah Polley) picks up her dead mother's ashes from a home, and drives off into the darkness. And somewhere else, a surly young musician (Gabriel Mann) struggles to, like, define himself.
All three of these characters are on a collision course, naturally. And there are a few more people involved in Howard's larger story -- a groupie (Fairuza Balk), a diner waitress (Jessica Lange), a Nevada woman (Eva Marie Saint), the insurance investigator (Tim Roth) for the movie Howard has abandoned to go walkabout.
"Don't Come Knocking" spends a lot of time just watching these various people drive around, or walk around, or just generally sit around, contemplating their places in the world, and possibly in Shepard's script. There are absurdly funny moments, like the scene where Mann gets all upset about something and pitches the entire contents of his second-floor apartment out a window. And there are uncomfortable, intimate moments, like the scene where Shepard and Lange -- a couple in real life -- have a screaming fight in front of a health club's oblivious membership.
There is nothing like a resolution, and nothing like a conventional story being told. But it gets under your skin, somehow; something about Shepard's sadness, or Mann's perpetually unfocused anger, or Polley's boundless compassion, finds its way into you while you sit and wait for something to happen. "Don't Come Knocking" doesn't work, as a movie ... but it does work as something else. What that is, though, I cannot say.
Sony's enhanced-widescreen DVD offers an appropriately mixed assortment of special features. Wenders contributes an audio commentary that manages to expand upon the film's central themes, even as it obscures them, and a sit-down with the director and supporting player Saint is frustratingly short. There's no footage from the shoot, but a longish Q&A session with Wenders, Lange and Mann from the movie's New York premiere offers some insight into the shoot, while a Sundance featurette brings Shepard, Polley and Balk into the mix. But it's probably worth noting that Shepard never says a word.
STUDIO: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: August 8, 2006
TIME: 111 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: French subtitles; audio commentary; production featurette; cast and crew interviews.
INTERNET SITE: www.dontcomeknocking.com