Walking Tall

UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

The Rock
Johnny Knoxville
Neal McDonough

directed by
Kevin Bray
The original Walking Tall was one of a slew of early ’70s vigilante movies, coming two years after Dirty Harry and a year before Death Wish, which it’s said to have influenced.

The film was a massive hit, leading to two sequels, a TV series, and now, a remake, starring The Rock.

He plays Chris Vaughan, a war hero who returns to his smalltown home to find times have changed. The lumber mill where his father worked has been closed down, and replaced as the town’s main employer by a seedy casino, owned by his high school nemesis Jay Hamilton.

Vigilante movies only work if the audience are convinced that the hero has no other option, so the film rains blows on Vaughn before he finally takes action. His childhood sweetheart is a stripper (and possibly more) at the casino, which also sells drugs, some of which nearly kill his nephew. The casino also cheats, using loaded dice, and when Vaughn spots this the casino security beat him up and leave him for dead. Oh, and they also beat his friends at football.

Needless to say, the police have been bought, so Vaughn takes matters into his own giant hands, smashing up the casino using only a 4X4 plank, a motif from the first film. In the resulting court case, he pleads with the jury to set him free to take over as sheriff, and run these varmits out of town.

This court sequence is where the film starts to lose its way. The scene has nothing in common with a real court, of course, but that’s not important. The problem is that after Vaughn’s speech, we know he’ll go free, and we know he’ll become sheriff. A more experienced director would cut straight to the badge, but Bray shows us a night in the cells, the verdict, and celebrations in court, all of which only slows down an otherwise taut thriller.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed Walking Tall. The first half hour has the languid pace of Robert Parker’s Spenser novels, before moving into some refreshingly low-tech action. The Rock is well cast, bringing a gentle humility to a potentially gung-ho role, and he is well supported by Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville, who shows admirable restraint in not acting the wacky sidekick. Both display promise of better things to come, as does the director, but Walking Tall will do for now.

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