Two peace-loving hippies, Clay and his pregnant partner Rocky, are driving in their van, enjoying the ride, each other’s company and the music playing on the radio. But their free-spirited journey hits a bump as they discover they’ve hit and run over a dog.
They discover that the small canine — called Walter — belongs to a family of patriotic war veterans. Owning up to their role in Walter’s demise, they attempt to inform the family of what happened — and find themselves embroiled in a culture clash and potentially deadly confrontation.
This short Australian comedy — written and directed by Dave Wade and produced by Kirsty Stark — has a pared-down, slender narrative: it’s essentially a small dramatic event and then a resulting difficult conversation and confrontation. But with great wit and brevity and a uniquely dry, laconic tone, the storytelling elevates this tall tale into a small comic gem about cultural and generational divides, all while building a surprising amount of suspense in its compact run-time.
The visuals have a stylishness to them, with a vintage sun-soaked, burnished tone and an eye for irony and wit in its studied, almost expressionistic framings and detail shots. But this isn’t style for style’s sake. Instead, it constructs a skewed suburban yet old-fashioned world that Clay and Rocky stumble into, cluttered with the evidence of a very different set of values.
The real accomplishment of the craftsmanship comes from the rhythms and pacing, which are razor-sharp and quick-witted. The editing moves briskly, often whip-lashing between tones and modes. The story veers between tension and humor, building up small potential spots of violence and then careening into goofiness or whimsy. Yet it also knows when to elongate a moment or detail — sometimes for comedic effect, sometimes to build tension.
It also slowly adds to the cast of characters, cramming more types into the small suburban living room of the main scene and building them up through mannerisms and dialogue. The excellent cast of performers clearly has fun with both the archness and broadness of the comedy, balancing the genuine emotions of the action with great comic timing that fits the singular tenor of the film.
As the proceedings unfold — and the writing slowly reveals its sly excellence — the film milks great humor from what has been a terrifically stealthy, precise set-up, which is parlayed into a genuinely suspenseful stand-off — one that touches at the great ideological divide between the sets of characters, but also lands a wallop of a punchline.
“Walter” manages the trick of seeming slapdash and almost manic in execution, but its zig-zag rhythms in tone and pacing disguise a meticulousness in its writing and craft that pays off with an almost perfectly calibrated ending. Its final moments are both of realization on the part of its characters, and relief on the part of its audience — who may recognize the roots of a cultural gulf that still exists today, and appreciate a momentary bridging of it, however fleeting.