Wakefield Blu-ray Review

Bryan Cranston drops out of life in this Oscar bait

Wakefield is the tedious deconstruction of a “successful” suburban family from an unhappy man’s perspective. Written and directed by Oscar-nominated screenplay writer Robin Swicord, star Bryan Cranston plays a successful attorney unhappy with his wife and twin daughters. A spur of the moment decision leads the protagonist to drop completely out of his own life, secretly hiding in his own garage as the family thinks something happened to him. It’s a fantastical premise stretched very thin, explored with an extraordinary amount of internal monologues by Cranston’s primary character.

Adapted from author E.L. Doctorow’s short story, leads Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner feel out of place in this moody family drama. Their casting likely got Wakefield made in the first place but their presence turns this quirky meditation on a family’s inner dynamics from indie fare to poor Oscar bait. Everyone is trying a bit too hard in Wakefield and the need for industry validation seeps through every moment of its script.

Wakefield is one of those movies written for critics, trying to posit something insightful about the human condition found inside a seemingly stable, outwardly happy nuclear family in the suburbs. It did receive some critical acclaim late in 2016 when it made the rounds in a limited theatrical release.

Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) comes home late one day from work and hits upon a perverse idea that would only happen in a movie. Howard drops out of his supposedly successful life to hide in his garage, voyeuristically spying on his wife and twin daughters to gauge their reactions to his absence. He holds some resentment towards his wife Diana (Jennifer Garner) as the passion has waned in their marriage, which is the excuse for this radical decision. Flashbacks in the narrative help reveal the key moments in their relationship, making Howard’s sudden decision to drop out of life more explicable.

Wakefield is an intimate film told entirely from Howard’s perspective. It could easily be turned into a stage play without much effort. Spying on his wife from afar most of the time, Howard goes into long internal monologues venting his frustrations with life. Howard drops completely out of society, forgoing a functioning life outside the garage. He becomes a homeless man hiding out in the garage, observing how his family continues on without his presence. This continues for months and months.

The structurally adventurous script ultimately drags the storytelling into extended monologues

A few moments of precious black comedy from Howard’s adventures in homeless living saves Wakefield from becoming a completely tedious bore. The entire movie rests on Cranston’s capable shoulders. It’s not his fault the movie doesn’t entirely work, there is only so much an actor can do with a script. Howard is an unsympathetic character from the beginning and flashback reveals only confirm that initial impression.

Wakefield unsuccessfully touches on a range of issues, from suburban living to the banalities of marriage. It’s constructed as a critique on traditional modern living in upper class families, but its observations are unremarkable. Made as a commentary on marriage, the dramatic punchline can be seen coming a mile away. Both Cranston and Garner give it their level best but Wakefield will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Jason O’Mara and Beverly D’Angelo also appear in minor supporting roles.

A-list talent like Cranston and Garner both made Wakefield with an eye on the Oscars. The structurally adventurous script ultimately drags the storytelling into extended monologues. It’s a curious choice that grows tiresome deeper into the narrative. This is really an atypical outsider drama made with Hollywood talent.

Video

Shout Factory provides a consistently nice 2.35:1 presentation for Wakefield. The steady cinematography offers strong definition in a subdued palette. The 1080P video has excellent clarity, if mildly filtered on some level. Lacking the hotter contrast and dimensionality of summer blockbusters, this is perfectly fine video for drama.

The main feature runs 108 minutes on a BD-25. The AVC compression largely handles the digitally clean video in perfect transparency. A blip or two of random banding appears. Black levels are never seriously pushed. The shadow delineation is adequate even in the darkest scenes.

Mastered from a digital intermediate, every scene exudes razor-sharp definition and crystal-clear detail. High-frequency detail is mildly limited in close-ups. It wouldn’t be unheard of that some filtering was applied to smooth out both Cranston and Garner in post-production. It’s the easiest way to appear younger in Hollywood.

Audio

Aaron Zigman’s restrained, moody score provides light accompaniment to the dialogue-driven drama. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack has limited moments of discrete sound design, largely confined to the front soundstage. Rear channels are largely there for spreading out the instrumental score over a bigger soundstage.

Dialogue is completely intelligible but mixed mildly harshly for a new production. Everything has been crisply recorded but audio design is not a key feature of Wakefield.

Optional English and Spanish subtitles appear in a white font. The subs remain in the 2.35:1 framing at all times. A secondary 2.0 DTS-HD MA that sounds nearly identical to the 5.1 track is included.

Extras

This Blu-ray and DVD combo set from Shout Factory comes in a slipcover. A couple of Shout Factory trailers precede the main menu (05:03 in HD). There isn’t much in the way of special features as seen below.

Wakefield Theatrical Trailer (02:03 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The unaltered images below are directly from the Blu-ray itself. For an additional four Wakefield screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 6,000+ already in our library), exclusive UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.