If you had programmed a computer to come up with a movie that is nothing but a string of the deadliest indie-film situations and moods, you'd have Sleepwalking, a soporific dud, which should have been tossed out of Sundance.
Filmed mostly in winter, in browns, grays and soiled whites, Sleepwalking sustains a mood of unrelenting bleakness, wearing its aesthetic of desolation like a badge of integrity.
Portentous and dull, the film features one of the worst over-the-top performances by Dennis Hopper, who plays an abusive father. His role upends what could have been a mildly interesting family drama.
Theron and Woody Harrelson (as James's party pal Randall) provide vitality against the film's heavy load, but they aren't around long enough to keep it from collapsing under its own portentous weight.
It's no easy task staying awake through Sleepwalking, a downbeat debut from Bill Maher (no, not that one). Only a typically intense performance from co-star Nick Stahl offers the jolt needed to keep us alert.
Charlize Theron only gets better as an actress, and she certainly wouldn't sign on to a low-budget indie such as Sleepwalking without believing in the material. The material, alas, does Theron no favors.
Relentlessly downbeat, with a glimmer of a payoff in the last couple of scenes, Sleepwalking is a film that has 'indie' written all over it -- for better and for worse.
When you see how hopeless the lives of the American people have become in endless independent films that drive the movie audience away in mobs, you understand why the big, dumb action comics and Will Ferrell alleged comedies make all the money.
Sleepwalking stands as a heartening reminder that the future of American cinema may rest with those independent filmmakers working far from the bottom-line executives heading the shattered remnants of the old Hollywood studios.
Sleepwalking is a frustrating case because Stahl, Robb and Theron all give performances that are subtle, delicate and smart -- it's just that they're steamrollered by the movie's relentlessness.
Terrific performances and a bleak, riveting look at life on the economic fringes eventually gives way to an overly familiar tale of abuse, denial and catharsis that feels like warmed over Sam Shepard minus the poetry.