Defiant Screen Entertainment, M, 104 mins
Bryan Cranston’s many starring roles since the end of TV’s Breaking Bad have included the serious (Get A Job, Trumbo) and not so serious (Why Him?, Power Rangers), but his performance here is easily one of his best, given that he spends most of the film alone and his character is, it must be said, profoundly unsympathetic.
A well-to-do New York banker named Howard Wakefield (BC) returns home one spring evening, and after walking the final stretch when a blackout causes the termination of his train ride, he starts enjoying voyeuristically watching his wife and two daughters from the attic beside the house and above the garage. Perhaps having experienced some sort of breakdown/breakthrough (or just because he’s a bit of a jerk), he gets such a kick out of playing hooky from his work and his family that days pass, and he watches as they react to him becoming a missing person, with his voiceover narration gleefully pondering the inconvenience and unpleasantness his absence is causing.
However, as we’re treated to flashbacks where he interacts with his wife Diana (Jennifer Garner, who only speaks in these past sequences), it becomes increasingly clear just who was at fault here, and while the plot seems to suggest Rear Window, it’s less about a desire to secretly watch someone else’s life than to witness what the lives of those around you are like when you’re not there. And Howard finds that it isn’t quite what he expected, as he turns into a shambling, hairy wreck desperately trying to cling to the notion that he’s in charge and he means something.
Drawn by director Robin Swicord from E.L. Doctorow’s New Yorker story (January 14, 2008) that updated an older tale by no less than Nathaniel Hawthorne, this might stretch credibility (Howard’s family don’t see him in the attic for months on end, or walk up the stairs for some stray item?) and has tested the patience of certain punters as Cranston sits alone, spying and gloating. But what they’re probably reacting to is the ugliness of the protagonist, as Bryan fights to make him real without any consideration of (ugh!) likeability.