Walker Movie Review

Following his one-two punch of cultic cinema, Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, director Alex Cox went on to make two more films that consecrated his reputation as, well, a malcontent. It was 1987 and Cox's latest film, Straight to Hell, was universally panned, not completely unfairly. But just five months later, Cox returned with Walker, an equally-batty spectacle built on the last years of the late-19th-century soldier-of-fortune William Walker and his conquest of Nicaragua. Given only a paltry release in December '87, Cox's film maudit was banished to the realm of VHS for two decades before Criterion took an interest and decked it out with all the trimmings.

Far too crazy to be fatalist, Walker strangely begins on a moment of near-defeat for the titular batshit commando (the phenomenal Ed Harris) and his madcap battalion. Saved by a sandstorm and his lawyer, Walker finds himself back in the arms of his love Ellen Martin (Marlee Matlin). The fact that Ephraim Squier (Richard Masur) holds the keys to Walker's future in politics doesn't stop Ellen from asking Squier to fornicate with swine. Soon enough, Walker is trading away his future with Ellen for a mission to Nicaragua at the behest of Squier and Cornelius Vanderbilt (Peter Boyle).

When Ellen abruptly dies, Walker's only able reaction is to yell "bitch" at her still-warm corpse before he leads his merry band of misfits over to the Central American republic. Simply put, what occurs is Walker's eventual presidency in the nation that later leads to a big ol' apocalypse. In that melee, there are a host of miniature maelstroms: Walker's puppy-eyed affair with a Nicaraguan leader's wife, his turbulent relationship with his lone black soldier (the brilliant Sy Richardson), the arrival of his swindling brothers and, certainly not to be forgotten, the veritable conga line of misplaced cultural signifiers (Time magazine, Marlboro cigarettes, a military-grade helicopter).

Cox was, and really always has been, one of the few punks in the cinema pact. Although auteur Jim Jarmusch may rank closer to the ideology's more cerebral tenants, Cox has that storm-the-gates, drunk-and-careless vitality that Jarmusch has subdued over the years; if Jarmusch represents the coy subversive tones of Joe Strummer, Cox fills the piss-and-vinegar attitude quotient as the essential Sid Vicious. Speaking of Strummer, the punk godfather provides not only a rambunctious score to Cox's film, but a small cameo as well.

What Roger Ebert called "a poverty of imagination" strikes me as closer to an utter indifference to aesthetic normalcy. If anything was predictable in Walker, it wouldn't work for a second and although it isn't as full-bloom as something like Southland Tales, Cox's imperialist satire has a consistent tone of enormity. At its most maddeningly eccentric moment, Walker cuts off and chomps down a slice of human flesh from a still-living soldier, passively remarking "I haven't done this in awhile" with a glint in his eyes.

The screenplay was written by Rudy Wurlitzer, the man who wrote two other grievously misunderstood pieces of schizo art: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and Two-Lane Blacktop. Alright, maybe the former wasn't all that misunderstood, but if anything, both screenplays show a man who's brazenly blunt and sometimes brutal with his critiques and allegories. Certainly Wurlitzer's most daring writing to date, the screenplay doesn't set up a hallucinatory realm so much as it creates a radical, ridiculous equivalent to the history of American foreign policy which has been, let's be honest, about as clean as a bordello's sheets on Sunday morning.

To its harsher critics' credit, Walker isn't the best embodiment of anti-Reagan, anti-American disillusionment (that distinction would either go to Blue Velvet or, more recently, American Psycho). Stunning if not essentially unlovable, Cox's gonzo anachronism needs to be seen to be believed and, for once, this action doesn't require rummaging through a dust bin.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : Angel Flores Marini, Lorenzo O'Brien


Walker Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1987


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