Dir: Matt Williams. US. 2006. 113mins.
Like a lovingly-crafted curio from another era, Walker Payne is a leisurely-paced perioddrama which defies current storytelling trends to remain resolutely classicalin style and form. Coming off like a cross between Hallmark Hall Of Fame and Amores Perros, if that can be imagined, it faces an uphillbattle finding distribution in today's brutal and impatient theatrical arena.
The film is certainly strongenough to warrant attention from festivals around the world - it had its worldpremiere last week at Tribeca - but quite howmarketing executives could attract audiences to pay to see it is anotherquestion. Commercial prospects lie in burgeoning TV platforms and on DVD.
The awkwardly-titled Walker Payne is the second directorialfeature from Williams, a TV producer with blockbuster credits like Home Improvement and Roseanne, whose first film as a directorWhere The Heart Is in 2000 was asimilarly old-fashioned slice of Americana.
In this film, which he alsoco-wrote with Alex Paraskevas, he hones his craft,eliciting some solid performances and crafting well-rounded characterisations,although the titular character's journey is never quite as compelling asperhaps the portentous pacing would suggest.
Patric plays Walker, a handsome, muscular man whose life insmall-town Illinois in 1957 is falling apart. Still on parole from serving jail-timeand newly laid off from his manual labourer's job in the local quarry, he isdesperate to raise some funds to pay child support for his two beloved littlegirls who live with his estranged wife Lou Ann (De Matteo).
In fact, the situation hasbecome so chronic that Lou Ann, who has never forgiven Walker for ruining herchances of advancement in life, is limiting his chances to see the girls untilhe can come up with some cash.
All Walker has is his charm,which has earned him the reputation of the town Casanova, and his loyal pitbull named Brute.
When Lou Ann proposes thatif he comes up with $5,000, she will leave town for good and give him custodyof the girls, Walker's plight becomes even more desperate. His only option, itappears, is to take up an offer from the shady out-of-towner Syrus (Shepard) to enter Brute in an illegal dogfight inneighbouring Kentucky.
Walker reluctantly startstraining and fighting Brute even though the dog is in mortal danger each timeout. Nor does his new girlfriend, bankteller Audrey(Strickland) approve, giving him an ultimatum to stop fighting Brute or loseher.
Williams and Jason Patric do a good job of making Walker sympathetic eventhough he is killing his canine companion (a mid-fight look of anguish fromBrute to Walker is heartbreaking), yet it's hard to feel sympathetic towards aman who has created many of his own problems in the first place.
Clearly Williams is tryingto make a social statement about the effects of unemployment on a man'sdignity, but whether that justifies brawling, infidelity and drunkenness isquestionable.
Drea De Matteo, probablymiscast as a 1950s wife and mother, is painted in a villainous light as a womanready to abandon her children and betray her husband, yet her situation wasperhaps always tougher than Walker's.
The dogfights themselves arewell-staged and harrowing, and perhaps too visceral for pre-watershed free TV.
Wind Dancer Films
Judd Payne & Matthew Rhodes
Matt Williams & Alex Paraskevas
James L Carter
Drea De Matteo