Walker (1987)

A few lives lost in the name of manifest destiny is nothing, right?

A few lives lost in the name of manifest destiny is nothing, right?

The more Alex Cox I watch, the more I believe Straight to Hell was the anomaly; the one unbelievably crappy movie in a filmography of interesting, worthy stuff, rather than the other way around. I’ve long been a huge fan of Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, and just recently watched Death and the Compass, which, to this day, I’m still not sure how I feel about, but it’s certainly far from terrible.

My Alex Cox study continues with Walker, a biopic about a little-known American… um… “adventurer” who declared himself president of Nicaragua in 1856. A firm believer in Manifest Destiny, William

Walker meets Vanderbilt.

Walker meets Vanderbilt.

Walker (Ed Harris) believed it his God-given right, perhaps even duty, to spread the power of the United States as far as possible. So, after Cornelius Vanderbilt (Peter Boyle) approaches him to take some buddies down South to “stabilize” the country and make it more trade-friendly, Walker goes forth, taking this duty very seriously indeed.

Once there, Walker rides a serious power-trip, names himself president, and declares the answer to the upcoming economic crisis is slavery, and does a whole lot of other despicable Colonialist-type

things that you can read about on Wikipedia. The point is, he’s just another in a long line of nasty, power-hungry racists who think America should stick their nose in everyone else’s business. It’s no coincidence this film was shot in Nicaragua in 1987, amidst the civil war there and the scandal over America’s intervention.



The movie itself is riddled with anachronisms – men riding in carriages are reading Times and Newsweek; everyone’s smoking Marlboros, there are even scenes with cars and helicopters! When this film was released, I guess people were really turned off by that, but I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Walker isn’t really a film about Nicaragua in the 1850’s; instead it’s a film about America’s long, dirty history of influence and intervention in places where it really doesn’t belong. Cox manages to make this painfully clear, and Harris’s deadpan, wide-eyed optimism and faith in America the Beautiful heaps it on pretty thick, too.

Walker beholds as everything crumbles...

Walker beholds as everything crumbles…

You wouldn’t think a movie about such a heavy topic could pull off funny, but it really does. I wouldn’t say laugh-out-loud funny, though there were a few barks and chuckles at the Newsweek. Through Cox’s lens, the swaggering American, swooping in and “saving” the natives seems so absurdly ridiculous, one can’t help but think it’s a joke. But, then you realize not only that it’s not a joke, but a terrible truth that’s still rampant and rotten to this very day. And that’s what’s so gosh darn brilliant about this movie.



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