F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 12, 2014)

12 12 2014

WalkerThe end of the year is drawing near, which means plenty of “great man” biopics that paint flattering portraits of “important” men in history.  (Rarely are these ever about women, I feel.)  2014 brings with it “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything,” just to name two, that fit this description.  To the surprise of very few, both those movies are predictably pretty good.

But it is time for someone to take a radical approach to the biopic once again.  These formulaic, color-by-numbers films are getting too safe for their own good.  So, in order to revitalize the sagging genre, I would highly recommend that all daring filmmakers brush up on Alex Cox’s “Walker.”

This is tied for the oldest movie I have featured in my “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column, but this 1987 release feels completely fresh.  Cox does Tarantino’s style before Tarantino made it famous, and he even has the guts to apply his eclectic, anachronistic, and oftentimes outright bizarre technique to real people and events.  Can’t imagine the family of Cornelius Vanderbilt was too thrilled about a cinematic portrayal of the business magnate where his most prominent feature is his flatulence…

Cox, working from a script by Rudy Wurlitzer, can certainly have more liberty with his subject given his relative obscurity.  “Walker” follows Ed Harris’ William Walker, a soldier of fortune who somehow ends up in Nicaragua doing the bidding of businessman in overthrowing their government.  Eventually, in a turn that no one who understands the effects of power will find surprising, Walker seizes what is essentially dictatorial control of the country.  And yes, this is a true story.

There is no inside baseball, political calculation, or dreary historical tedium to be found in “Walker” – only awesomeness.  Every turn of the film brings a new and unexpected joy in the form of a bold risk taken by Cox.  Whether it is in the characterization of Walker himself or in the gratuitous flow of blood in a battle, “Walker” constantly elicits the response, “I can’t believe he just did that.”  And it works practically every time, too!

Furthermore, “Walker” is not just style for style’s sake, a trap into which Tarantino far too often seems to fall.  What better way to show the connection between the factual past and controversial present of the film’s release, the Iran-Contra scandal, than to literally merge them within the movie itself?!  This is a work of pure, mad genius.



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