Tangerine Entertainment Juice Award, Hamptons Film Festival 2016

Telluride Film Festival 2016

Hamptons International Film Festival 2016

Austin Film Festival 2016

Toronto International Film Festival 2016

Munich International Film Festival 2017

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017


In Robin Swicord's adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's short story, successful suburbanite commuter Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) takes a perverse detour from family life: He vanishes without a trace. Hidden in the attic of his carriage house garage, surviving by scavenging at night, Howard secretly observes the lives of his wife (Jennifer Garner) and children and neighbors. Wakefield becomes a fraught meditation on marriage and identity, as Howard slowly realizes that he has not in fact left his family, he has left himself.

  • Bryan Cranston
    Howard Wakefield
  • Jennifer Garner
    Diana Wakefield
  • Writer/Director
    Robin Swicord
  • Producers
    Julie Lynn, Bonnie Curtis, Elliot Webb, Wendy Federman, Carl Moellenberg
  • Co-Producers
    Allison Avery Jordan, Kim Winther, Howie Young
  • Director of Photography
    Andrei Bowden-Schwartz
  • Production Designer
    Jeannine Oppewall
  • Editor
    Matt Maddox
  • Costume Designer
    Kim H. Ngo
  • Composer
    Aaron Zigman
  • Casting
    Amy Lippens

“A brilliant adaptation of a short story by E. L. Doctorow with a performance of enormous depth and sensitivity by Bryan Cranston."

- New York Observer

“Such an unflinching look at conjugal rift could seriously resonate with middle-aged moviegoers — especially women — starved for smart, personal stories.”

“A case of misanthropy rendered eloquent in Swicord’s resonant retelling.”

“These questions…speak to anyone who’s ever gotten what he or she thought they wanted, only to discover that the desire for more still remains.”

“Though Robin Swicord’s “Wakefield” does not have a distributor yet, Cranston’s performance as a man who literally puts his work and family lives on hold by retreating to his garage attic to observe his wife and children from close range bears mentioning. The burden of carrying the film rests squarely on Cranston’s shoulders as he narrates the drama (adapted from an E.L. Doctorow short story originally conceived by Nathaniel Hawthorne)."

- Variety

“Robin Swicord has crafted an elegant, slightly spiky rumination about a universal daydream: chucking a conventional life and starting fresh with a new, unfettered one.”

“Wakefield will attract buyers thanks to Cranston and co-star Jennifer Garner’s box-office appeal. This adult drama should cater to older art-house crowds, who will be drawn by good reviews for Cranston’s almost-one-man-show performance.”

“Swicord and her star walk the line between showing Howard as an unwitting monster and allowing for some humanity to develop. Even the film’s unlikely setup is mostly an asset, the growing suspension of disbelief required to accept that Howard could maintain his vanishing act serving as a commentary on the absurdity of him wanting to do it in the first place. And Garner gives Diana appealing opacity; we don’t know if what we’re seeing is the real her or the skewed person Howard envisions.”

- Screen Daily

“Cranston, who seemingly is incapable of giving a bad performance, has delivered a tour de force portrayal in Wakefield, equal to or even surpassing his 2015 Oscar-nominated role in Trumbo.”

“The film, based on an E.L. Doctorow short story, reminded me of 1968’s daringly original and divisive The Swimmer.”

“…early contenders (Cranston) for the 2017 contest”

“He is simply brilliant in this movie” (Cranston)

“Bryan Cranston might be included in awards conversation too if his film gets picked up for distribution after its World Premiere here (to be followed closely by Toronto). The film, written and directed by Robin Swicord, is the most mentioned acquisition title when I ask distributors which movie they want to see.”

- Deadline Hollywood

“tour de force lead performance from Bryan Cranston."

“Interestingly, a number of other somewhat polarizing movies featured performances that were very special — among them Bryan Cranston as a man who ditches his family in Wakefield.

“Cranston’s tour de force will be the main selling point both to potential distributors and the public.”

“In many ways, this feels like an immediate descendant of William Whyte’s seminal 1956 book The Organization Man, which first brought to general awareness the sterility and discontent to be found beneath the surface of post-World War II American prosperity; the narrator here refers to it as “the slow trajectory of a collapsing civilization.” Although set in modern times, the piece feels like very close kin to John Cheever, John Updike, Richard Yates and others of the preceding East Coast literary generation.”

“And it's hard to think of many actors besides Cranston who could make audiences pay attention to and all-but root for such an unappealing person. But, despite being alone on screen for most of the film, that's precisely what Cranston does. Indeed, he keeps things interesting in a film that engenders more questions than answers.”

- The Hollywood Reporter

“Bryan Cranston had had a number of notable big-picture roles since his nuclear finish on Breaking Bad some three years ago, but Wakefield has to be his best."

“A quite poignant look at identity and self as a middle-aged man."


“Cranston is so good in this. He deserves a great deal of acclaim for this. It’s such a smart film.” – Telluride festival co-director Julie Huntsinger

- Indiewire

Director’s Statement for “Wakefield”

I’ve loved E.L. Doctorow’s writing since I read his first novels, in my twenties: Hard Times and The Book of Daniel, then Ragtime.  Doctorow seems to saunter around inside America’s history, reaching into distant decades and pulling forward what feels like a modern story. His characters hook me, always. They’re instantly knowable, and as contemporary as I am – they just happen to live in this other time.    

Doctorow’s short story “Wakefield” takes place now, in the suburbs of New York: A businessman arrives home from work one night, and doesn’t enter his house. On impulse, he hides himself in the attic of his detached garage, and keeps vigil there, secretly observing the effect of his disappearance on his wife and family; and exploring his own estrangement, from his family, and from himself.

When I first encountered his character, Howard Wakefield, in The New Yorker in 2008, I felt that familiar Doctorow hook:  That sensation of You know me. But I didn’t know Howard Wakefield. He bewildered me; even disgusted me, slightly. Why would this man do such a thing to his family? 

To me Wakefield’s actions seemed rooted in privilege: A man who’s lived with a surfeit of good fortune, who’s never had anything bad happen to him, a man protected by money and education and Anglo-Saxon heritage, one day capriciously decides to invite disaster. To what end, I wondered? An idea of self-annihilation seemed to hover over the story. Was he punishing himself? For what crime?

I found myself thinking more about Doctorow’s short story. What would really happen to a man like Wakefield if he abruptly gave up his domesticated life, and plunged into the nocturnal suburban wilds?  

Initially he’d probably keep himself busy, I speculated, in a Ten-Habits-of-an-Effective-Manager sort of way. He’d nest in the attic, replicating the comforts of home. He’d develop clever strategies for scavenging “clean garbage” at night, from, say, the village bakery. Howard being Howard, even scrounging in a dumpster, he might set up a “workplace rival” for himself, like his nemesis back at the firm.  He’d feel pretty omniscient up there in the attic, self-amusing with sardonic commentary as he watched his wife and kids go through their predictable stages of loss.  

But eventually self-amusement wears itself out. My interest quickened. That’s when Howard Wakefield would step into himself, and discover an unmapped wilderness. What’s in that wilderness?, I thought. And, How do you photograph the inner journey?  As I began to make notes, a phrase came to me: “Hide, and seek.”

My friend the producer Elliot Webb introduced me to Edgar Doctorow. Doctorow and I spoke at length about my interest in adapting his short story.   

I wanted to make a film that fairly closely followed his story, yet would allow me to explore my own questions about Howard Wakefield. I was teasing out thematic threads that intrigued me, about marriage and identity. Doctorow pointed me to the source that had inspired him:  Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Wakefield”, set in London, in which a man disappears from his own settled life, with no explanation; then lingers in a boarding house across the street to watch what happens.    

In the story, Hawthorne extends a casual invitation: “If the reader choose, let him do his own meditation; or if he prefer to ramble with me… I bid him welcome.”  

A hundred and seventy years later, E. L. Doctorow took him up on the offer, and wrote his version of “Wakefield” with a free hand.  I’ll always be grateful to Doctorow for his same generosity of spirit, when he urged me to approach the film as my own “meditation”, and not fear that he’d take offense to anything I invented. He also offered his story rights gratis, deferring compensation until we were headed to production. To me, Edgar’s extraordinary generosity helped set the DNA of our little enterprise, or at least it seems that way now.

The one actor I desperately wanted, the actor whose name I’d written first at the very top of a terrifyingly short list – my perfect choice, Bryan Cranston, eventually said yes. Not only did he say yes to the challenges of a small indie production (20 shooting days!), but he committed to us a year and a half in advance, which allowed my producers Julie Lynn and Bonnie Curtis time to pull together our brave consortium of private financiers. I am still moved by Bryan’s faith in us – especially since his opening words to me after reading the script weren’t exactly words, but more like gallows laughter, followed by, “This is a strange movie.” 

And actually, those were the same words Jennifer Garner used at our initial meeting.  I launched into my plea for Jen to take the role of Diana Wakefield.  I pointed out that though Jennifer would rarely speak in the film, she’d have ample opportunity to be naked in front of a window.  Jen’s reply:  “Getting to play a character who’s living a full and complete life inside the house, who the audience gets to see, yes, but only through a window, and they never hear her voice – that’s exactly what I love about this part.”  Now, that’s a generous actor.   

For a director, getting to watch Jennifer work on set is like opening a present all day every day. She’s solid and luminous and truthful. If Jennifer’s super power is her authenticity, Bryan’s is his playfulness. He finds the opportunity for invention in every moment.   In the editing room, I could sometimes hear my own surprised laughter on the sound track, muffled, during some of Bryan’s takes. He’s funny, heartbreaking, and endlessly, compellingly original.   

From our first rehearsal through the final cut of the film, Bryan was my collaborator and co-conspirator.  It’s impossible for me to imagine making this film with anyone else. 

-- Robin Swicord