YEAR: 2005

ROLE:  Howard Spence, Western movie actor

DIRECTOR:  Wim Wenders  ("Paris, Texas", Buena Vista Social Club")

US PREMIERE: March 17, 2006


Plot Summary

Howard Spence has seen better days. Once he played Western heroes, now there are only supporting parts left for him. He leads an utterly selfish life, drowning the disgust for himself with alcohol, drugs and young women. Until one day he learns from his mother that he might have a child somewhere. The very idea seems like a ray of hope that his life wasn't all in vain. So Howard sets out to search for that son, or daughter, whoever it is. He finds Doreen, a woman he once loved, and Earl, a young singer who doesn't need a father anymore. But to complicate things, there's also Sky, who might be his daughter of another short liaison, and Sutter, a bounty hunter determined to take Howard back to the movie set that he abandoned.

Film Details
Sam SHEPARD...........Howard Spence
Jessica LANGE............Doreen
Tim ROTH...................Sutter
Gabriel MANN............Earl
Sarah POLLEY............Sky
Fairuza BALK..............Amber
Eva Marie SAINT........Howard's mother
Screenplay..................Sam Shepard
Primary Source...........Story by Sam Shepard & Wim Wenders
Cinematography..........Franz Lustig
Music.........................T-bone Burnett
Length........................122 minutes Premiered at 2005 Cannes Film Festival
Movie Stills
Photo Collections

 More publicity photos from the film

 Screening at the Sundance Film Festival - January 2006
Film Festival Screenings
France: Cannes Film Festival - May 19, 2005
Czech Republic: Karlovy Vary Film Festival - July 5, 2005
Switzerland: Locarno Film Festival - August 6, 2005
Brazil: Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival - October 3, 2005
Poland: Warsaw Film Festival - October 7, 2005
Brazil: São Paulo International Film Festival - October 21, 2005
Taiwan: Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival - November 5, 2005
Production Notes

The film was made during the summer of 2003. The shoot began in Butte, Montana where the bulk of the story takes place. Filming also took place in a small  border town called Elko in Nevada. Because of the casinos, the production crew was only allowed to shoot from four o'clock in the morning to four in the afternoon. A quick shoot followed in Salt Lake City at a shopping mall and a bus depot. Production ended in the town of Moab, Utah where both the beginning and end of the film were shot. It was extremely hot and on some days it reached 110 degrees on the set.

From the Director:
Sam and I wrote the story together. We found the character and then Sam started to write the first scene. We didn't work from plot at all. Then we would talk about it and then what next. Sam writes strictly for characters, which is so great when you get to the set and you realize those characters are already on paper, because they are what it's all about. With some movies you really have to start inventing the character when you get to the set. With Sam you can rely that it's there. The characters never have to convey the story; they are the story... The script was really immaculate when we started shooting... It was very much the film Sam and I wanted to make.  It took us three and a half years. The film was almost like a good wine when we finally sat down to make it."

To have Sam in front of the camera is one of my oldest desires as a filmmaker. Sam and I shot together an eternity ago, tests. Actually Sam and Gene Hackman were my favorite cast for Hammett [Frederick Forrest] and I shot a test with Sam for a day and it was fabulous. But the studios said, ‘Sam Shepard, he's not a movie star, bring us a movie star.' So I had to give up on my first impulse to cast Sam 27 years ago. And then when he wrote "Paris, Texas," I was on my knees asking him to play the part, but he didn't want to do it. He felt the material was too close to him. He didn't want to play the part. This time I didn't ask and that was a sneaky thing from me. And after a few scenes, he casually said, ‘By the way I think I could play this.' "

Sam is only a little like Howard. He’s very independent. He likes horses. He is not much into technology. He still writes on an old typewriter. But Sam has a great sense of family. His children mean more to his life than anything. We knew when we wrote Howard that he was hopeless. We had a distance to him from the first scene on. We knew that Sam as an actor would have to work to make Howard appear. We had to rely on other characters to be strong since Howard was so weak. Especially the woman had to be strong. That’s why the casting of the three women in his life was so important. Especially his daughter Sky was such a crucial character. She is the one that manages to turn Howard around and give his life a new direction. When I saw Sarah Polley for the first time, I knew she would be it.


Stephen Holden, NY Times:
A magnificent ruin: that's how the American West is pictured in "Don't Come Knocking," a surreal epic-manqué that reunites the playwright and screenwriter Sam Shepard with the great German director Wim Wenders...That description also applies to the visually majestic but dramatically inert new movie they've made together, and to the ravaged but still-handsome face of its 60-something writer and star. As impassive and craggy as a granite monument, Mr. Shepard has physically aged into a symbol of the stubborn, cranky individualist who has been a constant presence in his plays and films. Nowadays, he merely has to squint into the camera to suggest a tired, suspicious cowboy who has spent decades riding the range, roping steers and peering into the horizon for signs of trouble.

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune:
The writing is as stylized and semi-abstract as that in a Shepard play such as "True West" or, for that matter, "Paris, Texas." This movie, which often seems to be taking place inside Howard's head, is a funny-sad lament on family and celebrity: a "Leaving Las Vegas"-style tragedy and a "Broken Flowers"-style comedy, broken in two and stitched together. The lapses in realism shouldn't blind us to its pleasures.

Roger Ebert - Rating 2.5 out of 4:
"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.

Sheri Linden, Box Office Magazine:
The eminently watchable Shepard (Wenders' studio-nixed first choice for "Hammett") stars, and with his subtle responsiveness and veiled glance delivers the best performance in the film. If only there were more there there -- iconic locations notwithstanding.

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly:
Sam Shepard, with his snaggle-toothed rawhide glamour, is just about the only actor of his generation who can still wear a cowboy hat that looks as though it utterly belongs on his grizzled head... Shepard plays an aging Hollywood bad boy who was once a big Western star. His glory days are 25 years behind him, which vagues out the film's cultural time frame a bit; after all, it's not as if they were making vintage horse operas in the mid-'70s. Nevertheless, Shepard's charisma has always reached back to an earlier time, so it's easy to accept him as a kind of pre-counterculture hero — Eastwood without the sneer — who aged into the era of tabloid scandal.

Marrit Ingman, Austin Chronicle:
"Don’t Come Knocking" is a warm and sublime meditation on making a home out west and finding yourself after being lost and misguided. Wenders is still fascinated by America's big-sky country, by its serpentine highways and big cars, by its music (the songs in the film are by T-Bone Burnett), and by the way the desert collects lost souls... With its wonderful veteran cast, its heart on its sleeve, and a love for the landscape that suffuses its technique, "Don’t Come Knocking" is a peculiar but rewarding escape.

Matthew Turner, View London:
Shepherd’s fascinating script captures the painful reality of people who are simply unable to communicate with each other – this is initially frustrating but the end result is surprisingly moving. The performances are excellent. Shepherd is perfectly cast as his inexpressive face gives nothing away and keeps us guessing as to his true feelings...  This is an engaging, emotionally complex film with strong performances and visually arresting location work.

Steve Murray, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
As usual, Shepard makes an engagingly laconic presence... Though "Knocking" can test your tolerance for symbolic whimsy, it's worth a look for, well, its look. Cinematographer Franz Lustig makes Butte a thing of great, melancholy beauty. In saturated colors, he evokes the early 20th-century architecture and sun-and-shadow compositions of Edward Hopper's paintings.

Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall:
Watching Howard  (Shepard) seek out his parent/child connections is fascinating, mostly because he clearly has no skill at maintaining any sort of relationship... And Shepard plays it with a wonderfully oblivious, off-handed charm stands out at each step against the feisty, intensely focussed people he meets.

Barry Paris, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Along the way, we are treated to superb cinematography, in Wenders' trademark sweeping-circular style, and uniformly fine performances from long-suffering Lange, grizzled Shepard, out-of-control Mann and angelic Polley... The characters and contrivances here are less subtle than those of the 1984 Wenders-Shepard collaboration. But there are some wonderfully humorous moments to leaven the proceedings, and the moral is tasty:

Sean Axmaker, Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
As an actor, Shepard's restrained, internalized performance meshes nicely with Wenders' loping pace and his natural screen presence lends itself to Wenders' love of observing characters in landscapes -- both those in which they belong (the magnificent desert landscapes surrounding Moab, Utah) and those in which they try to belong (the small town east of Butte, Mont.). They are among the best moments of the film.

Chris Barsanti, Film Journal International:
Somehow, both Wenders and Shepard have worked around their own worst habits and brought out the best in each other. Wenders eschews the leaden pacing and stiff framing that plague so many of his films, sending his camera whipping around the American West, borne aloft on the ripping chords of T-Bone Burnett's electrifying and haunting score. Shepard, for his part, has laid aside the doom-laden melodrama that constitutes so much of his lesser writing for film and stage, and crafted a swifter piece of work that's as finely wrought as anything he's written, yet refuses to take itself one bit too seriously.