Director: Patrick Gilles
Writer: Patrick Gilles
Stars: Monica Barbaro, Mike Colter, Emma Caulfield Ford
The 1971 San Francisco oil spill that dumped more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil off its shores was an environmental disaster. But for a wily black trucking businessman named Charlie Walker, it was a golden opportunity to end racism in his industry and make big bucks with a rich and beleaguered oil company. As long as the system allows it, of course. Telling the story of Walker’s cunning exploits to save a beach and fight discrimination, “I’m Charlie Walker,” independently made by writer-director Patrick Gilles, is his own amorphous discharge, if not so clever
It features a towering old-school star turn from Mike Colter as the dashing, brawling Walker, but its mix of marginalized black history and power struggle narrative is too messy to have the impact it does. it should, especially after the handful of memorable black-themed Bay Area stories we’ve been getting lately
It’s never good for the postscript to a movie based on a true story to be more interesting than the movie itself. Unfortunately, this is the case with Patrick Gilles’ “I’m Charlie Walker,” a biopic about an enterprising black trucker who won a lucrative contract to help clean up the largest oil spill in the history of the San Francisco Bay. in 1971 when two Standard Oil tankers collided. . As the interview footage of the real Charlie Walker plays with text cards just before the credits roll, it’s clear this film would have been better as a documentary.
“I’m Charlie Walker” has all the makings of an entertaining period piece: a little-known true story, an environmental disaster, a colorful setting, and a riveting theme in Charlie, played by captivating actor Mike Colter.
Writer/director Gilles uses some techniques from documentary filmmaking, including a voice-over narration that opens the film, provided by the character of Charlie’s wife, Ann (Safiya Fredericks). But what should be a device to help us understand Ann’s inner thoughts on the matter is instead an extremely unappealing way of providing context for Charlie’s situation as a black truck driver in San Francisco in the early ’70s. , confronting the racism of the truckers’ union bosses. .
When tanker trucks collide, Charlie fights for a contract to help clean up remote Stinson Beach and jumps at the job opportunity. When the winds start to blow in his direction, literally depositing most of the oil on his beach, he becomes the face of the operation, hiring a crew and developing cleanup methods. The image of him to the public as a black man begins to irritate the racist white executives of “Tower Oil” who pull the strings of the money, who begin to undermine him. As he usually does, Charlie goes rogue, making sure to secure the bag for himself.
It should be a gripping story of triumph over adversity in a unique setting and moment in cultural history. But the narrative gets bogged down in issues of permits, licenses and blackmail, and the script has the misfortune to tell us, rather than show us, the problems Charlie faces. Gilles manages to make all the decisions that make this story completely boring.
Also, in a failed attempt to capture the famous free love of the ’70s, the film stumbles over some ridiculously bad sexist stereotypes. He’s not self-aware enough to criticize the outdated gender dynamic, and the dialogue and performances seem like they’re straight out of a bad adult movie. The entire production has all the value of a true crime re-enactment, with cops, FBI agents and hippies volunteering to clean up the beach dressed in Halloween-worthy costumes.
As “I’m Charlie Walker” tours the base of operations, it introduces us to the real man and spills reams of text about the rest of his wild life: his legal troubles, a stint in Folsom prison, a friendship with the mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown. (who makes a cameo appearance), and his struggling financial success. The real person is lively and entertaining, but as told by Gilles, this story is confusing and boring. It’s obvious that Charlie Walker has had a lifetime. “I’m Charlie Walker” is sadly a missed opportunity to do him justice.