In the early 1980’s, British filmmaker Alex Cox caught Hollywood off guard with the success of Repo Man (1984), which soon became a cult favorite. Following on the heels of that was punk rock biopic Sid and Nancy (1986), which brought Cox more acclaim and attention. For his next project, the director took on an even more ambitious subject, the life of the American filibuster William Walker and his time in Nicaragua. Walker was previously released on DVD by the Criterion Collection through their deal with Universal, but now has revisited the film for a Blu-ray upgrade.
The Production: 4/5
1853: After a failed excursion into Mexico to incite an armed insurrection, William Walker (Ed Harris) plans to start a newspaper to advance his belief in the Manifest Destiny. However, his plans change when his fiancée Ellen Martin (Marlee Matlin) succumbs to cholera and instead heads to Nicaragua – with the backing of business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt (Peter Boyle) – to overthrow the ruling government with a band of mercenaries. He succeeds, but his increasingly messianic behavior – including having the President of Nicaragua assassinated and assuming the title for himself – alienates those who helped him into power and causes the people and neighboring nations to unite to end Walker’s reign once and for all.
Once of the most bizarre biopics ever made, Walker takes a look at its historical subject while drawing parallels to the time it was released. Instead of hewing to a historically accurate depiction of William Walker and the times he lived in, director Alex Cox and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer intentionally fill the screen with anachronisms – increasingly so as the film progresses – to draw parallels to the Contra War that was happening during the film’s production; magazines, computer monitors, automatic rifles, cars and even a helicopter during the film’s climax further highlight this fact. Even more surprising was the fact that much of the film was shot in the very same country Walker himself took over and – with the support of the ruling Sandinista government – even during the Contra War! However, critics and audiences weren’t impressed by the end result of anachronisms, political satire and bloodshed and the film’s failure by and large ended Cox’s career in Hollywood. However, Walker should be remembered as a bold and audacious work by a director willing to push the boundaries in bringing past and present together in a stylish and amazing way; in short, it’s worthy of its cult status.
Portraying the infamous filibuster, Ed Harris gives one of his most underrated performances of his career; he would later go on to be nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Gene Kranz in Apollo 13 (1995). Marlee Matlin – fresh off of her Oscar-winning performance in Children of a Lesser God (1986) – makes the most of her cameo appearance as Walker’s fiancée Ellen Martin while Peter Boyle casts a memorable impression as Cornelius Vanderbilt. Sy Richardson – a favorite in Cox’s troupe of actors – has a notable part as Captain Hornsby while Rene Auberjonois is another standout as Major Henningson, whose constant arm wounding becomes a comedically dark running gag. Notably rounding out the cast here are Keith Szarabajka as the reporter who follows Walker to Nicaragua, Alfonso Arau as the French filibuster Gaston de Raousset-Boulbon, Pedro Armendariz Jr. as the Walker ally Muñoz, Gerrit Graham and William O’Leary as Walker’s brothers, Blanca Guerra as Doña Yrena, Richard Edson as the drummer boy Turley, Richard Masur as Ephraim Squier, John Diehl as Stebbins, Cox regulars Zander Schloss and Dick Rude as members of Walker’s army and former lead singer, guitarist and lyricist of The Clash (and the film’s composer) Joe Strummer as the group’s cook.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from an HD transfer from a 35 mm interpositive struck from the original camera negative and approved by director Alex Cox. Color palette and fine details are both represented faithfully with minimal cases of scratches, dirt, tears, vertical lines or other cases of print damage present. This release betters Criterion’s previous DVD release of the movie and is likely the best it will ever look on home video.
The film’s original stereo soundtrack is presented on a PCM track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Joe Strummer’s music score are all given a faithful representation and presentation with minimal to no cases of crackling, hissing, popping or distortion present. This release also betters Criterion’s previous DVD release and is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 4/5
Commentary by director Alex Cox and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer – Carried over from the 2007 Criterion DVD, Cox and Wurlitzer share memories on the film, while Cox considers this movie to be his finest work.
Dispatches from Nicaragua (50:40) – A documentary from 2007, consisting of footage shot on location during filming (which was unseen until this documentary); among those interviewed include Cox, Wurlitzer, cinematographer David Bridges, actors Ed Harris, Marlee Matlin, Zander Schloss, Blanca Guerra, Rene Auberjonois, Sy Richardson and composer/actor Joe Strummer, just to name a few.
On Moviemaking and the Revolution (11:13) – A short film from 2016 by Cox recalling his time shooting the film.
Walker 2008 (6:26) – A 2008 short film by Cox focusing on the critical reception of the movie.
The Immortals (8:41) – A selection of behind-the-scenes still photos set to a selection of Joe Strummer’s music score.
Theatrical Trailer (1:46)
Booklet feat. essays by film critic Graham Fuller, actress/author Linda Sandoval and Wurlitzer
Despite getting the cold shoulder from both critics and audiences during its initial theatrical run, Walker is still an ambitious and hallucinatory cult biopic that might be Alex Cox’s best work as a director. Criterion has surpassed their previous DVD release of the movie with a terrific HD transfer in addition to carrying over the special features from the previous release. Worth upgrading and highly recommended.
Amazon.com: Walker (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]: Ed Harris, Richard Masur, Rene Auberjonois, Keith Szarabajka, Sy Richardson, Xander Berkeley, John Diehl, Peter Boyle, Marlee Matlin, Alfonso Arau, Alex Cox: Movies & TV
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