Walden is one of those frustrating movies with a unique idea trapped in uneven execution. The initial concept could have made for a solid drama or a darkly comic lark, but its multiple moving parts get in the way of it fully achieving either of them.
Emile Hirsche is game in the lead role, but Walden’s inability to choose a lane leaves it surprisingly underwhelming. One thing’s for sure: You’ll never look at court stenographers the same way again.
What’s the Story for Walden?
Walden Dean (Emile Hirsche) is a mild-mannered stenographer who has spent the last 14 years dictating the world’s evils in the court of his small southern town. However, upon receiving news he’s terminally ill and hearing that a criminal got off on a technicality, Walden takes it upon himself to become a vigilante, brutalizing the town’s miscreants at night while maintaining his cheerful, unassuming disposition to those around him during the day.
In the midst of all this, he begins a relationship with fellow stenographer Emily (Kelli Garner) and avoids the gaze of suspicious detectives Kane (Shane West) and Hunt (Tania Raymonde) who are investigating a string of missing children’s cases.
The Strengths of Walden
Walden is the definition of middle-of-the-road. The idea of a meek stenographer essentially becoming The Equalizer in a quiet and respectable southern town is a solid spin on the revenge formula in concept, but as executed here it left me wanting more.
Emile Hirsche brings an immediate charm and likability to the lead role that makes you both want to root for him and eager to see what his brand of justice will look like. The acting in general here is fine (though West’s accent goes noticeably in and out at times), the violence shown is decently effective, and the direction builds and mostly maintains tension throughout, so it’s a shame its focus is strained across too many subplots.
Walden Puts Too Much On Its Plate
Walden could be so much better if it had consolidated its focus on 2 main plots: our hero’s vigilantism and the cop investigation. The film spends part of its time on barely explored subplots of the relationship between Walden and his father (David Keith) and flashbacks of his mother being a poor parent to him as a child.
While the parental subplots help flesh out Walden’s backstory, his mother is out of the picture and his father never becomes involved in thee primary narrative. I rarely ever say this, but the film would have benefited from a longer runtime to expand these elements so they could better fit into the overarching story.
The film is also unbalanced in how much time it spends between Walden’s story and the police investigation. Walden and the cops do interact intermittently, but their stories are so disconnected from each other most of the time that the film has separate climaxes for each of them despite a late revelation that should have all 3 heroes in the same room.
Also, some of the logic used by the cops in determining potential suspects is chuckle-worthy, but as per movie law, they can’t get too far ahead too quickly or we wouldn’t have a story. Again, it’s not bad, just strangely executed.
Walden‘s Violent Side
Regardless of the plot, most people go to revenge movies to see our hero take revenge on the bad guys. If you’re going into Walden specifically for the action, it’s present but less frequent than you’d expect. The movie does have these sequences, but I would have appreciated a couple more of them to not only show how far Walden was going, but also to increase the heat on him from the cop’s end.
I’m thankful it isn’t overdone for the sake of shock value, but I feel the core idea of someone whose job is to dictate heinous crimes reaching a breaking point and dispensing justice wasn’t played with enough. There is a setup for a sequel at the end of this, so if that happens, I hope it goes a little crazier.
5 out of 10 (Decent)
Walden releases in select theaters November 10, 2023, On Digital VOD on December 12, 2023
Release Date: In select theaters November 10, 2023, On Digital VOD on December 12, 2023
Director: Mick Davis
Screenplay by: Mick Davis
Executive Producers: David Keith & Emile Hirsch
Producers: Seth Michaels, Sara Sometti Michaels
Production: Benacus Entertainment, RNF Productions
Distribution: Uncork’d Entertainment
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Shane West
People collect sweaters, Walden Dean collects the testaments of justice, he is a stenographer and being the ghost of the courtroom, his mind is agonizingly crammed witnessing the torrent of injustice, until now. Discovering he has a terminal illness sends him into a rage that has been simmering deep within him for years and now he is about to take justice into his own hands, in the most gruesome ways imaginable. But there is a more gruesome piece of business Walden will need to deal with, a pedophile serial killer right on his small town’s own doorstep.
Walden is a decent enough time-killer whose enjoyable lead performance helps it get through uneven plotting and unrealized potential. Rent it when it’s available. Let us know what you thought of the flick over on social media!
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