An intriguing character study that's in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere, 'Don't Come Knocking' is the first collaboration between director Wim Wenders and writer/actor Sam Shepard since 1984's 'Paris, Texas'. And why the pair have waited so long to return to the American desert is a mystery.

As well as co-writing, with Wenders, the story that 'Don't Come Knocking' is based on, Shepard also scripted the film and stars in it as hard-drinking, hard-living, has-been Western actor Howard Spence. In a moment of epiphany, at the opening of the film, Spence gallops through the rocky plains of Utah, in flight from a film set and his dissolute life there. Setting out to escape and, simultaneously, find himself, he delves deep into his past and a life that somehow he managed to pass by.

Riding himself of his belongings and dumping his credit cards, Spence gravitates towards home and the mother he hasn't seen in 30 years (a great turn from the legendary Saint). With surprisingly few recriminations, she welcomes him in, offers him cookies and milk - and manages to drop into conversation the fact that one of his past girlfriends had his child, 20 years earlier. Still searching, he hits the road again, this time in an exceptionally flashy car for a man wanting to remain incognito, and makes the trip to his old girlfriend's hometown in Montana. 

Meanwhile, on Spence's trail, is odd-ball private detective Sutter (Roth), who was hired by the film's insurance company to deliver him back to the set. As Spence has a series of strange encounters with his old flame (Shepard's real-life partner, Lange), her singer-songwriter son (Mann) and a mysterious young girl (Polley) who carries the ashes of her mother about with her, the tenacious Sutter starts to close in, finally giving this meandering film a slight feeling of urgency.

Soaked in lovelorn, lonesome Western sounds, courtesy of T Bone Burnett, 'Don't Come Knocking' is a dreamy, relaxed exploration of the life a man could have led - if he had been able to. Sam Shepard is wonderful as a lost man looking for redemption but almost unable to take the necessary steps when it is there in front of him. The plot is ambling at best, at worst unbelievable, but strong support performances from a rather fine cast - particularly Jessica Lange, Sarah Polley and Tim Roth, with even the great George Kennedy in a small cameo as Spence's film director - ensure that this is a wander that you'll want to take.

Caroline Hennessy