Movie Review: Walker (1987)

Seen: On Criterion dvd on our projector set-up, borrowed from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Miles found this at his work and we were all ready for another Alex Cox movie to fall in love with since Repo Man is basically constantly on a loop at our house. Walker sounded rigoddamndiculous and I was intrigued by the premise alone. Based on a real-life figure, the film stars Ed Harris as William Walker, a doctor/lawyer/adventurer who acted as a “filibuster” in the mid-19th century, going into South American regions and attempting to set up American colonies. He is hired by opportunistic Cornelius Vanderbildt (Peter Boyle) to bring order to Nicaragua so that the wealthy tycoon can control their major trade route. Conquering local soldiers with a small army of mercenaries, Walker eventually installs himself as dictator and rules for almost two years. He becomes more and more irrational in his rule, killing on a whim and attempting to institute slavery, until eventually the people revolt against him and he finds himself burning down his own capitol city.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully process this movie, I mean I don’t know what the hell is happening. It’s like this bizarre satire and it’s kinda funny and kinda serious and generally fucked up. It wears its unreality on its sleeve, throwing in blatant anachronisms left and right and never dwelling on its own inconsistencies. This gives it an underlying humor, a sense of the ridiculous that encourages the audience to laugh at this larger-than-life, delusional figure. The thing is, though, this was a real person, and he was AWFUL. Most of this movie is just watching a terrible man do terrible things, and I was shocked to read how much of the story was actually true. Though told in this wacky manner, the big plot points were basically all correct. The film’s surreal and disjointed approach is actually fitting, a way to filter the atrocities of this period and make them easier to swallow. Of course the whole film is meant to be a commentary on Reagan-era imperialism, but that too is a historical period to me (as opposed to a lived one).

I don’t know, I think I liked this movie? But maybe I didn’t? It’s definitely entertaining, and it’s so weird you just have to keep watching. And it is funny. The cast is amazing- including Rene Auberjonois, Sy Richardson, Peter Boyle, and the always-delightful Gerrit Graham. Marlee Matlin plays the best character, but she’s only in one scene. She is also one of two women in the whole movie. The score is fantastic, composed by Joe Strummer just after The Clash broke up. He’s also in the film, somewhere, but I’ll admit I didn’t spot him. There are so many white dudes with beards hanging out in large groups that it was tough to really pick people out. ANYWAY Walker is a strange time, but I guess that’s what makes it worth it, even if it was hard to watch sometimes because everything was the worst. I know Alex Cox is definitely not condoning the acts of William Walker, but just showing the fucked up world he created during his short time in Nicaragua is enough to make me queasy.


Pair This Movie With: I’ve heard some comparisons to Dead Man, which I haven’t seen in a long time but remember liking.

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