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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Sleepwalking (Blu-ray)
Sleepwalking (Blu-ray)
Starz / Anchor Bay // R // July 8, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 15, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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It wouldn't be particularly clever or original for me to open this review with some snarky crack about Sleepwalking putting audiences to sleep, but then again, there's not
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much that's particularly clever or original about this turgid, ham-fisted indie drama either. Despite the sheer volume of talent on display, Sleepwalking listlessly warms over a well-trodden premise and fails to infuse it with any energy, insight, or spark of creativity.

Joleen (Charlize Theron) and her twelve year old daughter Tara (AnnaSophia Robb) have never had much to their name, but when the last poor schlub she was shacking up with is dragged away in cuffs and his ratty house is seized on drug charges, what few meager possessions they did have are stripped away. Effectively homeless, Joleen turns to her brother James (Nick Stahl) for help, although that meek doormat is barely keeping his head above water himself. Joleen is hardly there a full night before skipping town with some random trucker, leaving behind a vague note with an empty promise to return in time for Tara's birthday.

Despite still being stuck in a state of arrested development himself, James is saddled with the role of makeshift father, a responsibility he's so poorly equipped to handle that it costs him his job, his rundown apartment, and even his niece. Social Services snatches Tara away and puts her in foster care, and James settles into the dingy basement of one of his eye-rollingly cocksure friends (Woody Harrelson). With his sister still God knows where, James drops in to visit when Tara's birthday rolls around, and she begs her uncle to take her with him. The two of them run away together and slowly trudge their way back to the family farm where James and Joleen grew up. Even all these years later, their father (Dennis Hopper) is still a vicious bastard, and Tara quickly starts to suffer the same verbal and physical abuse that made her mother swear to never return to the farm and has left her uncle a stunted infant of a man.

Sleepwalking is a bleak, unrelentingly gloomy movie that trudges along at a glacial pace. While many dramas do move at a slower, more deliberate pace to better flesh out its characters and envelop the audience in their world, Sleepwalking sticks so unwaveringly closely to a neverending parade
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of indie drama clichés and is mired in so much clumsy, self-important dialogue that it's borderline-impossible to feel invested. Its third act is a near-total disaster, with Dennis Hopper gnawing on the scenery with his thirty-fourth consecutive retread of Frank Booth from Blue Velvet and a sunny, cheery ending that's wholly unearned. Even Charlize Theron turns in a performance that's frenzied and hyperemotional but lacks any real depth. For nearly every moment she's on-screen, Joleen is either screaming, crying, or has some random fling's tongue shoved down her throat to distract her from either of the above. Her barely-there supporting role is intense, certainly, but it lacks any convincing depth and does little to earn any empathy.

Nick Stahl and AnnaSophia Robb come close to salvaging Sleepwalking, even with as shaky as the screenplay is. The familial bond between James and Tara is wholly convincing, latching onto each other in large part because there's no one else for either of them to hope to grab onto. Stahl's restrained performance wonderfully conveys James' quiet, repressed torture, and the firecracker that Robb plays counterbalances and complements James especially well. It's a disappointment that the screenplay isn't in the same league, even trying to coax a dramatic wallop out of the dusty cliché "today is the first day of the rest of your life".

Sleepwalking desperately wants to be profound and insightful, but it's just another slow, uninvolving, uninspired, heavy-handed drama. Not recommended.

Video: Sleepwalking's understated visual style doesn't exactly dazzle in high definition. The somber tone of the film is reflected in its gray, overcast palette, and contrast tends to be flat and lifeless. It's clear with even a passing glance that this is a high-def release -- the level of clarity is well above anything a traditional DVD can hope to reproduce -- but the 1.78:1 image is considerably softer and less detailed than average for the format. I'm sure this is just a factor of how Sleepwalking was originally filmed and shouldn't be considered a misstep on Anchor Bay's part, but viewers shouldn't go in expecting any sort of polished, glossy sheen with this Blu-ray disc.

Audio: Sleepwalking offers a choice between a traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 track as well as uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio. This may be a dialogue-driven
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film, but the sound design still does a better than expected job of filling the room with sound. The surrounds are brimming with color, thanks to a strong sense of atmosphere and scattered discrete, directional effects. Bass response is modest, although effects such as the throaty roar of 18-wheelers, kick drums in the score, and the thud of a horndog trucker shoving Joleen onto a table coax a bit of low-frequency support from the subwoofer. There's a somewhat rough hewn sound to the recording of the dialogue, but it's still intelligible throughout. This isn't an especially dynamic soundtrack, but it suits the subdued approach of the movie reasonably well.

There are no dubs or commentary tracks, but subtitles have been provided in English (SDH) and Spanish.

Extras: Only two extras are on this disc, both presented in standard definition and anamorphic widescreen.

"A Mother's Shame, A Family's Pain: The Making of Sleepwalking" (16 min.) focuses primarily on interviews with the cast about their characters and working with Charlize Theron both as an actress and as a fledgling producer. Some of the other topics covered include the soul-crushingly cold Canadian shoot, how Theron hopes audiences will react to her deeply troubled character, and how a playful tone on the set helped to counterbalance the grim tone of the movie being filming. It's a decent making-of featurette, although the video quality is surprisingly poor.

A theatrical trailer has also been included.

Conclusion: Plodding, underwritten, and marred by a bafflingly clumsy third act, Sleepwalking can't be salvaged by its sporadic bursts of insight or the strength of its performances, and the film's release on Blu-ray is similarly lackluster. Rent It.
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