Making the Grades
Have you ever stood in line for an amusement park ride only to be shocked at how short and unsatisfying the "thrill" was? If so, you'll likely leave the theater feeling the same way after shelling out some serious coin to see Walking Tall.
An opening title page claims the movie is based upon a true story--just as the original 70s film was. However, I'd proceed with caution before assuming that any of what follows is reality. Even the names have been changed to protect the innocent--as the notable Sheriff Buford Pusser is now operating under the moniker of Chris Vaughn (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). And instead of making his living as a wrestler (a logical choice with the casting in this film), this newly named character returns to his small hometown in rural Washington as a former member of the U.S. Army's Special Forces division.
Chris discovers a lot has changed during his eight-year absence, thanks mainly to a decision made by a former high school nemesis. Flashy Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) sold off the community's sole major industry. Instead of a sawmill, they now have a glitzy casino.
This new establishment houses slots and sleaze. Loaded dice are standard equipment, and every young woman has a job requiring little wardrobe--including a former girlfriend who works as a coin-operated stripper. Jay is also named as a provider of locally produced drugs, and Chris's younger brother Pete (Khleo Thomas) is one of his customers.
Can we push any more angry buttons?
A confrontation with the swindler and his thugs leaves Chris mutilated and nearly beaten to death. And Sheriff Watkins (Michael Bowen) is on the payroll too, as he turns a blind eye to the obvious crimes. After weeks of rehab, Chris decides to take matters into his own hands--with the infamous four-foot club.
When his retaliatory actions land him squarely in jail, the burly hometown boy pleads his case to a local jury. A promise to run for sheriff and clean the place up helps him win his freedom. But earning his right to the golden badge and bringing down Jay will still require a long hard fight and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
What took over two hours to portray in the original film, is boiled down to barely more than an hour in this version. The remaining plot is nothing more than an empty frame upon which scene after scene of violent mayhem is staged. In traditional Hollywood style, Chris's good intentions are used to justify bullets, beatings, and bodies.
The Rock certainly has a commanding on-screen presence, especially for young male audiences who may place him in a role model position. Watching him rationalize the use of such extreme force (especially in a PG-13 film), along with his casual attitude toward sex (a single sexual encounter is strongly implied and he chooses to view a stripper), makes Walking Tall's short runtime its best feature.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Walking Tall.
When is violence justified? Did Chris use every opportunity available to him to rectify the situation? What other agencies could have been involved? How does this movie attempt to give good reasons for the violence presented?
An extended scene has Chris locked in the police station while thugs fire hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rounds of ammunition into the building. Where are the rest of the towns citizens while this is happening? Why do movies often remove “unnecessary” elements (like the rest of the communitys population) when portraying a story?