YEAR: 2006

ROLE:  Syrus

DIRECTOR: Matt Williams

US PREMIERE: April 26, 2006 - Tribeca Film Festival

Plot Summary

Set against a backdrop of rural America in the late 1950s, Walker Payne examines one man’s desperate attempt to hold on to his children at any cost. Unemployed and recently paroled, the only bright spots in Walker’s (Jason Patric) life are his two girls and loyal pit bull, “Brute.” When circumstances lead this flawed hero to exploit his canine companion for money, Walker risks losing everything he cares about for a chance at having the life for which he longs.

Film Details
Jason PATRIC.....................Walker Payne
Sam SHEPARD...............................Syrus
Drea DeMATTEO......................Lou Ann
KaDee STRICKLAND................Audrey
Bruce DERN................................Chester

Screenplay............Matt Williams and Alex Paraskevas
Cinematography...............James L. Carter
Music.................................Mason Daring
Length...................................117 minutes
DVD release..................August 26, 2008

Movie Stills

 View photos from the film's premiere on April 26, 2006
Production Notes

Filming took place in South Carolina and Ohio. Pictured below is the film crew preparing to shoot in a coal mine strip in New Springfield, Ohio. Filming was completed in July 2005.

Due to the controversial and intense animal action required, American Humane became involved with this production early on. A Certified Animal Safety Rep helped select the full- and mixed-breed pit bulls and American bulldogs used in the film and witnessed their training and preparation for the simulated fight sequences. Walker Payne in no way glorifies this savage “sport”, and in fact, writer/director Matt Williams says, “Dog fighting is vicious, cruel and, unfortunately, is still practiced throughout this country and many parts of the world. I intended this film to be a blatant condemnation of a barbaric sport that has been deemed a felony in all 50 states. It is the controlling metaphor of the film.”

During the initial training, dogs were first introduced to each other on leash to test compatibility for play action that would eventually appear on screen as fighting behavior. If any signs of aggression or forceful domination occurred, such dogs were separated and considered incompatible. Dogs that played easily together were allowed to play and wrestle on and off leash in a plywood pen for just a few minutes and were then separated so they would be eager to play together in the future. Behavioral training soon followed, with the dogs learning to go from one mark on the ground to another and to “speak” and back up on cue. They then advanced to more elaborate tricks, such as jumping through an open-window obstacle and onto a car hood.


"While 'Payne' offers a compelling performance by Sam Shepard, who seems to become a more iconic cinematic presence with each passing year, the film lacks the thematic resonance necessary to help audiences get past its unsavory subject matter...  Only Shepard as the quietly ominous Syrus truly compels. Wearing his tightly tailored suits and speaking in his high reedy voice, the actor cuts a quietly Mephistophelean figure who seems the very essence of American capitalism at its worst."      - Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter

"Sam Shepard (who has a singing debut a la O Brother, Where Art Thou?) is brilliant as the sleazy hustler from Florida who convinces Walker to fight his beloved dog."   - Spin and Stir

Shepard steals the film and Patric holds his own, while the rest of the cast fails to find depth, making their characters too familiar to care about."   - Dan Mecca, Poughkeepsie Journal

"Looking better than ever—wrinkles etched all over his legendary face—the playwright-actor delivers one of his most elemental performances. Dressed in a too-tight suit and snakeskin boots, Shepard plays the classic “stranger comes to town,” a con artist who chews on his scams like they’re plugs of tobacco. He’s more Pan than hustler, a trickster who starts a nasty world of trouble, and generates the film's one unforgettable shot: Standing on the pitcher’s mound of a small town’s empty baseball field, Shepard shuffles his boots in the dirt and stares up into the dirty stadium lights, tuning that deep, Western-loving voice to the primal rhythm of some old soulful hymn. As that sinner who can’t help but sing, Shepard—in this one beautiful scene, at least—stands straight and skinny as a kind of prototypical American man, crooked to the core but practically regal."  - Logan Hill, New York Metro

"Sam Shepard is brilliant as Syrus, a sharp-dressed, gospel-singin' and monumentally dubious character who drags Walker and his beloved pit bull into the clandestine dog-fighting world across the state line in Kentucky. Shepard is much better at this kind of American Satan role -- at times he seems to be channeling Robert Mitchum's classic turn in 'Night of the Hunter'"   - Andrew O'Hehir, Salon magazine

"Given that Patric pulls off a surprisingly mellow and likeable acting job here, and Shepard is willing to ham it up as much as possible to liven up the proceedings (going so far as to sing a couple not-half-bad old folk songs), Walker Payne had some definite possibilities."   - Chris Barsanti,

"Patric and Shepard are exceptional in their respective roles, but the characters they play are such thin, formulaic personalities, it never matters how well they are portrayed. The one thing in which the film excels at is depicting realistic-looking dog fights. The animals truly look like they're getting ripped apart. If any fans of the sport do end up seeing Walker Payne, they at least will be impressed and satisfied."   - Christopher Campbell, Blogging Sundance/Cinematical