Traveller – 1997

Director Jack N. Green
Screenplay Jim McGlynn
Starring Bill Paxton, Mark Wahlberg, Julianna Margulies, James Gammon, Luke Eskew, Nikki DeLoach

There is a strong desire to turn away from Traveller for fear of having seen it all before. For the type of film that is very much low budget, one is tempted to think there would be something less formulaic. It’s a presentation of the Irish descendant Travellers of the deep south who keep to themselves except when they go to towns and take advantage of the local populace. One of these con men is Paxton’s Bokky, who has things working just fine until he is obliged to take on the son of a prodigal cousin, Pat (Wahlberg) as a partner.

The film has moments of gravity and some wackiness thrown in to the point where it’s hard to take it seriously at certain points. James Gammon’s Double D is a particularly tough character to take seriously. His character is played to such a comic degree, it brings the film to hi jink territory.

Wahlberg doesn’t have much to offer at this point in his career, but he’s not a detriment. This is the same year he was in Boogie Nights, and he’s essentially the same character here. He’s got a certain amount of verve which plays well, if muted.

Juliana Margulies is played against type as, Jean, a desperate single mother who loses her job due to one of Bokky and Pat’s scams. Bokky takes more than just pity on her. Very quickly, Bokky and Jean become a thing. Their chemistry works well enough. Paxton’s skill is such that he is definitely as capable of lifting your wallet as he is to add money to it without you knowing.

Paxton’s portrayal is the very biggest selling point of the film. He has a way of grabbing a lead character and making him real, instead of large. His Bokky has a certain amount of charm and ability, but he never lets it get in the way of his dedication and obligation to others. One can’t help but wonder how good this film could have been if they had dedicated to creating supporting characters that actually challenged him in the way that fed into his abilities of self-deprecation and courage.

As for antagonists, he is worthy of intelligent counterparts and he gets these in this film. Unfortunately, Green’s directing style takes away from the power of the more dangerous elements. Only in the last few minutes of the film does it all come together. Once it does, everything moves up a tick, when you realize there’s been a secret, malevolent force only hinted at before.

That it shows up when it did gives the story a significant jolt and makes us the whole journey much more worthwhile. It also gives us another example of how effective Paxton was as a lead actor. A lesser force would have insisted on being the focus of the answer, rather than someone who is at the complete mercy of others. Very few would allow themselves to be put in this position, and it makes the film much better because of it.

Another strong selling point for the movie is the soundtrack. Several traditional movies that were hits in another form are covered quite effectively by the likes of Randy Travis, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Mandy Barnett and The Cox Family. Several of the artists make memorable takes on these classic songs, adding character to the film that gives it a definite time and place.

If you have no patience, this film is not for you. Honestly, the first 3/4 of the film is almost a complete throwaway. The thing about that ending, though, is it brings you to the point where its all worth watching over again to see what it is you missed watching the first time.

One thing’s for sure, though, if you like Paxton, this one is a must. And you’ll miss him every time.

(**** out of *****)

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