The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
Does every moment of a movie have to work for you? Or can you enjoy an imperfect one if it fills in places around the edges of your imagination? "Don't Come Knocking" is a curious film about a movie cowboy who walks off the set, goes seeking his past, and finds something that looks a lot more like a movie than the one he was making. There are scenes that don't even pretend to work. And others that have a sweetness and visual beauty that stops time and simply invites you to share.
The opening shot is the key. On a black screen, we see two openings into the sky. From how they're placed, they could be the eyeholes in a ragged mask, maybe the Lone Ranger's. Then the shot reveals itself as a rock formation in Monument Valley; millions of years of evolution have left behind these two holes, joined by arches to the walls of a long-ago river canyon.
We are looking into the past, and at icons of the movie Western; such rock formations were a backdrop in the classic films of John Ford. But the movie being filmed is far from "Stagecoach." The mobile homes of the filmmakers are arranged in a circle, like wagons, but instead of a horse the assistant director rides a Segway. The Western being made is so bad in a retro Johnny Mack Brown way that maybe it's a satire.
But, no. It's supposed to be a real Western, starring Howard Spence (Sam Shepard), a once-great Western star, now disappearing into cocaine and booze after a lifetime of scandal. "Don't Come Knocking" was written by Shepard and directed by Wim Wenders; they wrote and directed the great "Paris, Texas" (1984). What they should know is that once-great stars do not disappear into bargain basement versions of their earlier work, but move laterally into independent films that use their presence as an icon. That's what's happening here: Shepard may be playing a pathetic has-been, but what he really brings is an actor and playwright who embodies Western myth in modern dress. I suppose I have seen all of Shepard's work on the screen, and have never caught him being less than authentic.