By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Alex Cox always had the reputation of a renegade director, with the results apparent in films as distinct yet similarly irreverent as Sid and Nancy and Repo Man. Walker was his most ambitious film yet- a historical film about an American who basically invaded Nicaragua at the behest of industrialists and in the name of democracy, shot on location in the middle of the Sandanista/Contra civil war. Unsurprisingly, this film pretty much ended Cox’s studio career, although the real question is how this film got a budget in the first place.
The studio’s insurance agent, mid-pitch.
Ed Harris starred as Walker, the American soldier of fortune destined to become the short-lived President of Nicaragua, in the process betraying every single one of the lofty ideals he claimed in the beginning without ever losing his confidence and strong sense of purpose. He shows how despots are made, an arc we are all too familiar with.
Yep, if I had to pick someone to play a steely, crazed Puritan, it’d be him.
The supporting cast, which includes Marlee Matlin, Peter Boyle, and the radiant Blanca Guerra among others, is uniformly excellent both in dramatic and darkly comic situations. Joe Strummer of all people provides the score, and when it sticks to Latin influences or goes a little bit Morricone, it’s great. In the climax, it’s nothing short of perfect.
What makes this film such an undersung creative achievement, however, is Cox’s vision for the film. He’s not making a film just about 1850s American interventionism in Nicaragua, he’s making a movie about 1980s American interventionism in Nicaragua as it’s happening. It’s ballsy as hell, and deserves a toast for the very idea, as does the Sam Peckinpaugh-inspired action (Peckinpaugh’s even name-checked on a sign).
As the movie progresses, it becomes more and more absurd, and the anachronisms become more and more overt, building to a crescendo of sound and fury, a climax literally and figuratively ablaze with creativity and ferocious intent.
Don’t get the idea that this is a perfect movie, though. Far from it. For such a ramshackle production, it’s surprising everything is as coherent as it is, but there’s still some concerns. Canned farts always sound dumb. You want a fart joke? Get Peter Boyle to rip one for real.
Nobody fucks with Vanderbilt!
The soundtrack is great at points, but also all jazz sax-y sometimes, which we can all agree is terrible. The pacing is also wonky and uneven, but I dug it in the end.
Par the course for Alex Cox, Walker has plenty of big ideas undercut by spotty execution. Give me a movie that’s too ambitious (and a little Ed Harris) any day, though.
Take a Drink: whenever Walker refers to himself in the third person
Take a Drink: for overly anachronistic speech, man
Take a Drink: for even worse anachronisms than that
Take a Drink: for cognitive dissonance
Do a Shot: for sign language arguments
Do a Shot: because, yes, they’re gonna fuck them sheep
Last Call: Stick around for the credits to see some contemporary and fucking depressing U.S. foreign relations history.