How does a 12-year-old girl brought up in such conditions find a better life? That is a question Tara Reedy (AnnaSophia Robb) hardly dares to ask. As the film begins she and her reckless, slatternly mother, Joleen (Charlize Theron), have been evicted from the house where they were staying with Joleen’s latest boyfriend, who was busted for growing marijuana. Tara has no choice but to trail along glumly as Joleen is reduced to begging her meek, ne’er-do-well younger brother, James (Nick Stahl), to take them in.
No sooner do they move into James’s dingy apartment than Joleen runs off with a truck driver, leaving Tara with her uncle, who works on a road-building crew. After missing one too many days on the job, he is fired. He ends up crashing in the basement of his married best friend, Randall (Woody Harrelson). It isn’t long before Tara lands in a foster home.
In a last-ditch effort to put down roots, James snatches Tara from foster care, packs them into a car and drives to the childhood home he and Joleen fled many years earlier. The scenes of James and Tara, who agree to pose as father and daughter, developing a familial bond while on the road give the movie its only glimmer of sweetness. Once they arrive at the Reedy homestead — a run-down cattle and horse farm that is an American gothic house of horrors — they are immediately put to work as unpaid slave labor by the monstrous paterfamilias, Mr. Reedy (Dennis Hopper).
Mr. Reedy treats Tara with contempt, hitting her across the face for her incompetencies at farming. Furious but calm, James tries to stand up to his father, but is quickly rebuked and threatened with a shovel. After silencing his son, Mr. Reedy continues to abuse Tara for no other reason other than he attempts to possibly break her spirit. Now having lost complete control of his emotions, James picks up the shovel and beats his father to death, bringing an end to the years of abuse he and Joleen suffered at their father's hands. James then takes Tara to Westmoreland where Joleen is waiting at the police station. He leaves Tara with Joleen as the police rush out to arrest him, but he is already gone.AnnaSophia Robb as Tara Reedy
Nick Stahl as James Reedy
Charlize Theron as Joleen Reedy
Woody Harrelson as Randall
Skylar as Child Boy with Pool
Jean as Child Boy with Pool
Dennis Hopper as Mr. Reedy
Deborra-Lee Furness as Danni
Mathew St. Patrick as Detective #1
American newspaper The Christian Science Monitor praised the film, commenting that "Despite its deficiencies, and the inadequate screen time allotted to Theron (who's quite good), "Sleepwalking" has a core of feeling. It's about a do-gooder who, lacking all skills for it, does good anyway. His emotional odyssey has real poignancy," concluding to give it a final rating of "B". In a review for USA Today, Claudia Puig called the film "Portentous and dull," adding that "[the film] features one of the worst over-the-top performances by Dennis Hopper, who plays an abusive father." The New York Post reacted negatively to the film, writing that it is "relentlessly depressing", whereas The New York Times gave a neutral review, noting that "Sleepwalking sustains a mood of unrelenting bleakness, wearing its aesthetic of desolation like a badge of integrity."
Reviewing the film negatively, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post called the film "an inert, sloppily written melodrama as grim and featureless as its frozen Midwestern setting." The Chicago Tribune wrote negatively of the film, noting that "Despite honorable work from Theron, Robb, and Stahl, "Sleepwalking" makes good on its title in a not-so-good way."
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 17% based on reviews from 60 critics.
The DVD release does not include any deleted scenes. At least two scenes were filmed that did not make the final cut. In one, Tara sees her mother flirting at a roller rink. This scene might have given more insight into why Tara carries roller skates with her and Joleen's motivations for running off. Brief clips of this scene can be viewed on the official movie trailer. Two stills from the movie's official website depict Tara and James in a colorful room with a piano, sunflowers, and streamers. It may have been a fantasy sequence of Tara's that she had to temporarily escape from Mr. Reedy's demanding work. Alternatively, they could have decorated the farmhouse after Mr. Reedy was not a threat to them.