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Short of "Walter White: The One-Man Show," it's hard to imagine a more focused showcase for actor Bryan Cranston than writer-director Robin Swicord's soulful midlife drama "Wakefield."
Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a successful Manhattan lawyer on his way home to the suburbs, where he lives with his wife, Diana (Jennifer Garner), and their twin daughters. It's a comfortable life, but not necessarily a happy one.
When a power outage stops his train, Howard walks the last mile home, ignoring Diana's calls. At the house, he sees her through the window, ready to start an argument. He decides to avoid a fight and hide out in the storage room above the family's detached garage until she falls asleep.
Howard falls asleep himself, in a chair at the room's window, with a full view of the house. In the morning, he sees Diana in a panic, calling the suburban police to report her husband missing. He feels committed now and opts to continue hiding until she sends the girls to school and leaves for work. When she does, he sneaks into the house, has a shower, changes clothes and eats breakfast.
Then Howard has an epiphany. He will stay in the storage room, hiding out not just from his family but from his work, suburbia and everything else. He even vows not to re-enter the house, subsisting on garbage thrown out in the neighborhood and the town's Dumpsters. How long will he keep it up? He doesn't know.
Swicord ("The Jane Austen Book Club") follows Howard's discoveries about the homeless life, from the seasonal changes in trash to the 2 a.m. rounds of Russian gleaners. He also reflects on his marriage, which he admits began with deception: He stole Diana away from his best friend, Dirk (Jason O'Mara).
In his actions and in his narration, Cranston channels Howard's frustrations at Diana, his self-serving rationalizations and his underlying sadness. It's a bravura performance that Swicord, adapting an E.L. Doctorow short story, captures to create a shattering portrait of suburban despair from the outside looking in. "Wakefield" is a small gem, but it shines intensely.
Bryan Cranston gives an incandescent performance as a lawyer who checks out of his life.
Where • Area theaters.
When • Opens Friday, June 2.
Rating • R for some sexual material and language.
Running time • 109 minutes.