Traveller

Bill Paxton's Bokky and his intermarrying tribe of nomads are con artists working scams in the rural South. They are travellers, a little-known subculture of Irish gypsies who immigrated to America in the mid-1800s and are still preying on the gullible and the elderly, with faulty roof repairs and used mobile homes sold as factory fresh. Paxton, as star and producer, has used the travellers to spark a lively, light-fingered slice of pulp fiction.

It's a shame that screenwriter Jim McGlynn didn't put more emphasis on the customs of the clan. The scam stuff is older than The Sting. Still, debuting director Jack Green, the estimable cin-ematographer (Unforgiven, Absolute Power), gives the movie a solid grounding in character as it veers from action to comedy to abject terror.

Paxton delivers a vivid performance as Bokky, the master grifter who takes in stranger Pat O'Hara (Mark Wahlberg), the son of a traveller who died in exile for marrying an outsider. Bokky is on the verge of doing the same with Jean, a single mom played with heat and humor by Julianna Margulies of ER. Pat has his eye on the hellcat daughter of Boss Jack (Luke Askew). Her name is Kate, and Nikki DeLoach invests the small role with the flirty fervor of a born star.

As for scene stealing, no one beats James Gammon as Double D, the old swindler who involves Bokky and Pat in a mob sting that ends in blood. The brutal climax may be at odds with a film that otherwise moves with the insinuating ease of the country songs on the soundtrack. But that's the scary fun of Traveller – it keeps springing surprises.

From The Archives Issue 760: May 15, 1997