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King of the Road

Traveling Companions: Bill Paxton and Mark Wahlberg.

Bill Paxton stars in low-key drama

By Richard von Busack

EVOCATIVE locations and authentic performances highlight Traveller, a story about Irish-extracted Gypsies roaming the American South directed by Jack Green, Clint Eastwood's usual cinematographer. Bill Paxton, who co-produced the film, plays Bokky, a trader in aluminum trailers and a part-time scam artist. Bokky runs the old discount roofing gaff, squirting motor oil over the shingles and calling it roofing tar. He decides to adopt Pat (Mark "Marky Mark" Wahlberg), the son of a relative, and teach him the trade. Various picaresque adventures end with a standard action-movie climax involving Bokky's love for a woman he'd previously scammed (Julianna Margulies of TV's ER).


An interview with Bill Paxton,
plus a cheat-sheet for the two Bills.


In interviews, Paxton stresses how much he wanted to make this film in the school of the little American films of the 1970s, such as Fat City and Payday. Traveller is nearly on that particular campus. The script by Jim McGlynn has authentic little details, like a farmer's offhand comment about how if the rain gets his corn he might as well turn his silo into the world's largest still (did you know it's against federal law to possess sprouted corn?). Paxton has the ease of an old pro, and he demonstrates that he should be working with co-stars more subtle than the tornadoes he wrestled with in Twister. Evincing a melancholy worthy of Jack Nicholson, Paxton doesn't disgrace himself when he cries at a tombstone.

Traveller fails in the same way that the Eastwood films Green quotes fail (we see a TV broadcasting Every Which Way but Loose). As in Eastwood's handmade films, it's hard to exorcise the sense that the actors are playing the parts of poor people; nothing's as gritty as it should be. Traveller is mostly a sort of floating world in which the details just make the story look a little more artificial. The drama comes too quickly to the Hollywood point, and a few important moments are glossed over--the big scam Bokky pulls on the porcine, bald-headed gangster Turk is vague, as is the exact way Bokky escapes from an inescapable death trap at the end. You don't expect explanations for nonsense in a Hollywood film, but you do when you're watching something more intimate. Ultimately, Traveller is a worthy attempt (and more should be made) to recapture those personal films of 25 years ago.

Traveller (R; 101 min.), directed and photographed by Jack Green, written by Jim McGlynn and starring Bill Paxton.

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From the May 8-14, 1997 issue of Metro

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