William Maher’s directorial debut is called Sleepwalking because its protagonist, 30-year-old James (Nick Stahl), is figuratively sleepwalking through life. This is evident from his go-nowhere prospects working in roadside maintenance, the dull look in his eyes, and the fact that he can’t get to work on time (if at all). It’s also evident from his climactic speech, in which he tells his 12-year-old niece Tara (AnnaSophia Robb), whom he’s kidnapped from a foster care facility, “Before now, it’s like I was living in a dream. A bad dream. Like I was sleepwalking.” Subtle, no? So goes the leaden script by Chumscrubber scribe Zac Stanford, in which every line is a Big Statement, every character has exactly one defining quality, and every plot development is cornier than the last. Though he falls a little too in love with bifurcating the frame, Maher has a nice eye for spatial arrangements that visualize his characters’ isolation. Stanford, on the other hand, is entirely incapable of understatement, hitting every note so hard that the film soon becomes monotonous, a string of deep declarations and deeper far-off stares into the distance. Producer Charlize Theron co-stars as Tara’s lousy, whorish mom Joleen, presumably to help the project acquire financing and distribution, and within her first 15 minutes delivers so much overwritten, import-heavy dialogue that the film literally seems winded. Once Jolene disappears into the night, leaving Tara in passive James’s care, Sleepwalking becomes downright lifeless, with the “action” (as it were) only resuscitated by James and Tara’s visit to the farm of James’s bastard father (Dennis Hopper). There, Hopper’s mean ol’ daddy screams at Tara to clean up horseshit and then, when she doesn’t obediently comply, beats the shit out of her, a bit of one-dimensional villainy to amplify Maher and Stanford’s one-dimensional pathos. A close-up of barbed wire covered in frost is more evocative than all the film’s talk, but Sleepwalking isn’t made of chilly, prickly metal, but tepid mush.
- Overture Films
- 100 min
- William Maher
- Zac Stanford
- Nick Stahl, AnnaSophia Robb, Charlize Theron, Dennis Hopper, Woody Harrelson
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