directed by Jack N. Green
(October Films, 1997)
Hollywood loves travelers.
Over the years, it's given us world travelers, space travelers, time travelers and Have Gun Will Travel.
Bokky (Bill Paxton) is a different kind of traveler. A descendent of an ancient order of Irish gypsies, he now roams the U.S. southland playing small con games, like sealing driveways with old crankcase oil -- guaranteed to last until the first good rain.
From the moment we see him ambling down a two-lane blacktop in his pickup truck and trailer, shaving as he drives, the sounds of Roger Miller's "King of the Road" behind him, we like him. And we know he's in trouble.
That trouble comes in the form of three people.
First there's Pat O'Hara (Mark Wahlberg), the son of a fellow "traveller" who has been ostracized from the clan because his father married an outsider and left the family to live in the straight world.
Then there's Double D (James Gammon), a fellow "traveller" who comes along and sells Bokky's trailer out from under him, all the while insisting that he was planning to give Bokky the money.
Finally, there's Jean (Julianna Margulies), a bartender whom Bokky and Pat take for several hundred dollars with a stickpin scam. But Bokky decides to return the money, and from then on, it's clear there's going to be trouble in traveler land.
Traveller is a small film, made outside the glare of Hollywood lights and the constructs of Hollywood money. Consequently it's free to follow its own path, to have an uncompromised vision. That it does, for better and worse.
The story gets off to an unfocused start; it rambles, much like Bokky, never quite sure where to go or whom to con next. Then, like Bokky, it gets caught up in a tangle of subplots: Pat wants in; Pat is rejected because his father deserted the family; Bokky agrees to take Pat under his wing: Pat falls in love with the daughter of family boss Jack Costello (Luke Askew); Double D wants Bokky to go in on a racetrack scam; Bokky falls in love with an outsider; ostracism looms.
But once Traveller starts pulling the loose threads together -- and Bokky decides to turn his back on small-time scams and put in with Double D for the big score -- Traveller leaves no doubt in our minds that it's a high-stakes film that's playing for keeps.
Some viewers may find Traveller too complex for its own good, or too slow-moving in its early scenes. And there's an odd kind of Dukes of Hazzard tone to Bokky and Pat's first scam, especially when it goes awry.
But in its look at an unusual subculture coexisting with our own, a modern-day extended family living a hard life in search of easy money, gathering twice a year -- at Easter and the World Series, no less -- to bury their dead and catch up on one another's lives and loves, Traveller is a superb document that produces everything from hearty guffaws to sheer terror.
And its lovemaking scenes alone are enough to make a hermit pin a "for rent" sign on his cave. Need we say more?