“Sleepwalking” may and should remind us that there are a lot of lost souls out there. It is grim and bleak, but there is also something touching about the relationship that unfolds between a hapless young man and his niece, who has been abandoned by her mother.
Nick Stahl, who made a name for himself as a child actor in Mel Gibson’s “Man Without a Face,” is James, brother to Charlize Theron’s Joleen. At first, you may believe that the movie is Theron’s. She is the wayward mother insulting cops after they leave her home in shambles. shedding tears when she realizes her daughter is, like her, on her way to a life of despair.
DIRECTED BY: William Maher
SCREENPLAY BY: Zac Stanford
STARRING: Charlize Theron, AnnaSophia Robb, Nick Stahl, Dennis Hopper and Deborah Lee-Furness
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
But then she runs off, leaving Tara (AnnaSophia Robb) with James. He may be a loser who has trouble holding down a job, but he feels and accepts responsibility for his niece. In what turns out to be one of the film’s most heartfelt scenes, he is caressed by a co-worker (Deborah Lee-Furness).
It’s a mother’s love and James tries to fight the emotion off, not because he does not need it but because he has no clue how to accept it. But he does know how to give unselfish love to his niece, even though he is financially and emotionally unable to come up with a solution.
When Tara ends up in a home, he rescues her and, by the time the movie is over, we witness the source of his anguish. It is his tyrannical, rancher father played with a heavy hand by Dennis Hopper. We know guys like Hopper’s character exist, but as presented here, it’s over the top. In a movie speckled with nuances, a Simon Legree figure blows reality out of proportion.
Still, “Sleepwalking” has something to say about a contingent of lost souls who have never really been nurtured by love and, if they find it, have a difficult time dealing with a positive emotion. The literary parallel to the drama presented by “Sleepwalking” is not realism, but naturalism, a genre rooted in Darwinian determinism. It’s not the kind of work people think about when they exclaim they go to the movies to be entertained. But it is a film we can appreciate for its excellent performances and insight into an unfortunate condition brought on by situations beyond one’s control.