When you are sabotaging your own career, it is best to go out on the right note of sincerity. What director Alex Cox presented in Walker is such a moment. He sacrificed his comfortable position under the guiding hand of Hollywood to make a statement. To hell with the consequences, and as he tears up the rulebook, he also tears up parts of his script, sanity and anything else he can get his hands on. Walker is a work of insanity, and it is all the better for it. It is, unfortunately, a film whose calamitous production overwhelms the actual story, and we audience members will remember it as the downfall of a promising director, more than a story of mercenaries installing a new government in Nicaragua.
Much has been written on the left-wing stance Walker takes. Considering how conservative and reserved Hollywood had been at the time, it is wildly refreshing to see a non-contemporary piece crash through with a story to tell. Still, reviews of the time called it anything from gross to misguided, absurd and cartoonish. The eyes of today are kinder than those of the past, and while Walker is not as water-tight as it should be, the general attitude Cox and crew members around him display a complete disregard for history, for they wish to acknowledge the discrepancies that Hollywood had offered the biopic style of the times. He wished to use the notoriety he had as a tool for good. While we cannot knock him for such a just cause, we can spend hours and hours picking apart his film.
Or at least, we could if it were more than stifled and underwhelming. Walker is not the most interesting of projects. It has great source material that is done away with to make a statement. Oddly enough, the lack of historical accuracy isn’t the problem, it is merely Cox’s direction. Ed Harris’ leading performance is interesting to some extent, not his finest work but a nice enough starring role as the titular William Walker. Peter Boyle appears also, but Cox’s direction leaves much to be desired. He is too fixated on perfecting a hard-hitting knock of the popular themes that blighted his former visions and creative dreams.
Where Cox has displayed confidence in toying with the historical limitations the biopic can present, his efforts were mocked, while others, namely Braveheart or Darkest Hour have been lauded. There is a reasonable sentiment coming from that. At least Braveheart is entertaining. But while Walker does not have a strong disregard for history as that Mel Gibson-directed piece had, it does have an attitude that was so opposed to the styles that were popular at the time. That is not why it failed, not necessarily. There is always room for cultivating new ideas in an industry where studios can survive a few rough releases. Walker was one of them, but it deserved a wider audience not just for what it wanted to say, but how it tried to do it. Treasure these films, even if their story isn’t particularly enthralling, for it is films such as this that do at least try and push the boat out into fresher waters.