• U.S.

Cinema: Bananas Republic

2 minute read
Richard Schickel


It is one of Hollywood’s hoariest traditions: when filmmakers start to tell a historical whopper they place a title card at the front of their picture, solemnly assuring us that what we are about to see is true. The ensuing lies are generally sanitizing, ennobling and inspirational. At the beginning of Walker, its creators cross their hearts and hope to die in the usual manner. But the lying that follows is of a grand and giddy kind — the stuff of that rarest of movie genres, the mock epic.

William Walker is a figure flitting through the thickets of those impenetrable contemporary backgrounders about the situation in Nicaragua. An American adventurer who gathered a mercenary army — well, actually, it was more of a platoon — and “invaded” that unhappy land in 1855, he briefly became its President before being deposed and executed. It was the sudden death of his fiancee (Marlee Matlin) that turned Walker into a Manifest Destiny zealot (hey, whatever works for you!). Contrasting formality of speech and manner with ruthless righteousness, Ed Harris makes him a furiously compelling creature.

Harris probably could have carried a conventional account of the founding of a bananas republic unaided. But Director Alex Cox and Writer Rudy Wurlitzer are helpful deadpan absurdists. They point up the parallels between 19th and 20th century imperialism with sly, casually dislocating anachronisms. Accompanied by a rock score, Coke bottles, North American magazines carrying cover stories about Walker’s exploits, even a Marine helicopter all turn up at ! the strangest moments. At best one thinks of Brecht’s presentational theater, at worst (not often) of Saturday Night Live. At all times one is glad to see the spirit of youthful subversion alive, applied to a sober subject — and looking bankable to a major studio.

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