Jon Korn

Sundance Film Fest (Premieres)–Just before the end of William Mahers new, underwhelming indie film Sleepwalking, the lead character not only speaks the works title, but actually uses it to describe himself. This simple act, utterly lacking in the art and subtlety that a study of regret and healing demand, serves to undo everything good that had come before it. Sleepwalkers is not a film that can get away with this; given its difficult subject mater and taciturn lead, it's the sort of film that should never speak its own name.

An inept melodrama, “Sleepwalking” tells the story of a shattered family trying to put itself back together. As James Reedy, a lonely construction worker trying to do right by his delinquent sisters child, Nick Stahl delivers a quietly restrained performance, which is the best in the film. In contrast, Charlize Theron (who's also credited as producer) gives an actorish performance as James sister Joleen, and AnnaSophia Robb acquits herself honorably (but barely so) as Joleen's young daughter, Tara.

The cast is heavy with ringers, but unfortunately they are underused and asked to recite preposterous lines. Woody Harrelson is cast as James amiable best friend, and Dennis Hopper gives an atrocious performance as the Reedys abusive patriarch.

Too often, when actors portray working class, normal people, they still look like movie stars under the bad haircuts and crappy clothes. But this film displays a washed-out, secondhand feeling, from Paki Smiths stellar production design to cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchas stark camera work. Nothing looks new in this rural saga–from clothes to cars to motels we are in the world of the used.

The script by Zac Stanford (who penned the disappointing coming-of-age “Chumscrubber) is the source of most of the films problems. While the plotting and sense of place are adeptly drawn, the characters rarely say anything other than exactly what they are thinking. This banal and obvious dialogue makes it seem as if Standford might have benefited from several more drafts. It also establishes an overall sense of literalism of which the aforementioned title drop is only the most blatant example.

After Joleens latest deadbeat boyfriend is arrested, the desperate mother moves in with her meek brother James before taking off and leaving her daughter Tara behind. Faced with the twin responsibilities of working his thankless job and caring for a willful twelve-year-old girl, James fails at both, losing his job and Tara (to the DSS) in quick succession.

As James life spirals down, he moves into the basement of co-worker Randall (Harrelson), a salt of the Earth bon vivant who helps his friend find some backbone. With Joleens return doubtful, James goes to visit his niece, only to be roped into hitting the road by Tara, who has inherited her mothers indomitable spirit. James and Tara bond on the road, taking on new identities while their miniscule bankroll dwindles away to nothing.

Out of money and wanted by the law for abducting Tara, James sets his course for the family farm from which he and Joleen escaped many years ago. Waiting there is Mr. Reedy (Hopper), a tough man who has little time for sentiment and regards James more as an indentured servant than a son. James and Tara briefly enjoy their rural idyl, but that is brought to an end by soon Reedys brutal ways, along with the unending monotony of agricultural life. James manages to win their freedom, but it comes at a steep price.

James and Tara return to their old life, only to find Joleen waiting for them. Things are both the same and completely different, but the does seem to be a way forward for all.

It is easy to forgive a small, personal film like Sleepwalking some of its flaws. Messy plotting, indulgent running time, or general, pervading sense of sentimentalism could be overlooked, chalked up to the nature of the story being told. Unfortunately, the issues that plague this film are of the unforgivable sort. The heavy-handed dialogue continually breaks the balance a film, showing little accomplishment.

“Sleepwalking” is the kind of film that gives a bad name for regional independent cinema, and the Sundance Film Festival. The only reason it got into the Premiere section is Charlize Theorn, and obviously it's the wrong reason.


James – Nick Stahl
Joleen – Charlize Theron
Tara – AnnaSophia Robb
Randall – Woody Harrelson
Mr. Reedy – Dennis Hopper
Danni – Deborra-Lee Furness


An Overture Films (in U.S.) release of an Overture Films in association with Icon Entertainment Intl. (U.S.) presentation of a Denver & Delilah (U.S.)/Infinity Films, WJS (Canada) production.
Produced by J.J. Harris, Charlize Theron, Beth Kono, A.J. Dix, Rob Merilees, William Shively.
Executive producers, Anthony Rhulen, Michael Sterling, Charles Mason, Justin Moore-Lewy.
Co-producer: Stephen Onda.
Directed by William Maher.
Screenplay: Zac Stanford.
Camera: Juan Ruiz Anchia.
Editor: Stuart Levy.
Music: Christopher Young; music supervisor, Kevin Edelman.
Production designer: Paki Smith.
Art director: Sara McCudden.
Costume designer: Cathy McComb.
Sound: Chris Duesterdick.

Running time: 100 Minutes.