Walker, The (2007): Schrader’s Murder Mystery, Starring Woody Harrelson and Kristin Scott Thomas

Writer-director Paul Schrader’s The Walker consists of one interestingly-drawn character in search of a compelling story.
Our Grade: C (** out of *****)

The final segment of what could be described as Schrader’s lonely man trilogy (following 1980s American Gigolo and 1992s Light Sleeper), The Walker aspires to be a politically scathing murder mystery that exposes the corruption at the heart of Washington policymakers. But Schraders underdeveloped plot and lazy anti-conservative attacks add up to a lethargic experience, no matter how much energy actor Woody Harrelson brings to the central role.

Carter Page III (Harrelson) is a bon vivant D.C. socialite who escorts the wives of Washingtons most powerful men around town. Openly gay, he bonds deeply with his female friends, particularly Lynn (Kristin Scott Thomas), whos having an affair with Robbie (Steven Hartley), a lobbyist. Carter doesnt mind keeping the affair secret, but his complicity grows when Lynn one day discovers that Robbie has been viciously murdered in his home. Carter agrees to call the police, claiming he discovered the body so Lynns marriage will not be threatened. But Carter quickly discovers that his well-intentioned lies only blow up in his face, causing him to become the main suspect in the killing.

As a scribe and director, Schrader (the writer of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, director and adapter of the novel of “Affliction”) is known for his sagas about uncompromising men squaring off in a pitiless kill-or-be-killed world. As Schrader has himself as suggested, The Walker in a way is a revisiting of Richard Geres male prostitute character from American Gigolo, who, like Carter, prided himself on being the perfect companion to the women around him.

The movie works best studying Carters odd lot in life. Both his father and grandfather were prosperous, successful Virginians while he has made no name for himself, spending his empty days playing cards with rich, bitchy older Washington women and gossiping on the phone after each new party. Impeccably dressed with a noticeable sashay to his walk, Carter is nearly a living cartoon version of the sophisticated gay Southerner. Mired in an unsatisfying relationship and constantly reminded of his failure to live up to his lineage, the character is ripe for a rude awakening when his cozy world topples after Robbies murder.

As Carter, Harrelson gives his best performance in many years. Considering Carters extremely affected way of carrying himself, it would be easy for Harrelson to resort to camp, but the character blurs the line between glib self-satisfaction and barely-contained unhappiness. Very effectively, Harrelson suggests that Carters vaguely artificial demeanor is a mask that even he himself resents but one that he must continue to wear since he knows no other way of operating in this privileged society.

Unfortunately, Harrelsons performance, strong yet unobtrusive, only magnifies the rest of the films weaknesses. While no one would expect a fizzy John Grisham-style page-turning whodunit from a sober, provocative writer like Schrader, the mystery that forms the backbone of The Walker is noticeably dull. Its not that the plot twists are easy to guess. Rather, its simply too difficult to care whats happening since the array of suspects Schrader has concocted are mostly one-note corrupt Washington bigwigs. The Walker wishes to create an environment where politicians are unquestionably crooked, but the movies cynicism isnt so much jolting as it is clichd. As Carter tries to clear his name while finding himself shunned by the women who used to adore him, Schrader takes every opportunity he can to use his protagonists downfall as indicative of the countrys rightward political turn since the beginning of the Bush administration. But Schraders potshots feel tame and hopelessly pass, not contributing much to a year when many American fiction films took aim at the Iraq War and the president.

Outside of Harrelson, very few of the celebrated actors contribute much of interest. Kristin Scott Thomas demonstrates her usual sultry flair playing the adulterous, shallow Lynn, but the movie is hurt immeasurably by her long absence in the middle of the film. Lauren Bacall and Lily Tomlin are underused but have enough presence to leave a slight impression, while Ned Beatty, as he does in the upcoming Charlie Wilsons War, seems to be phoning in his role as a government mover-and-shaker.

Because of the amount of care Schrader brings to Carters back-story, The Walker can hardly be considered a disaster. But ultimately, its mystery fails to entice and its ruminations about the soullessness of Washington politics feels old hat. Just as Carter is trying to escape the long shadow of his family legacy, Woody Harrelsons fine central performance seems to be shaking itself loose from the mediocre movie surrounding it.

Cast

Carter Page III – Woody Harrelson
Lynn Lockner – Kristin Scott Thomas
Natalie Van Miter – Lauren Bacall
Abigail Delorean – Lily Tomlin
Jack Delorean – Ned Beatty
Emek Yoglu – Moritz Bleibtreu
Larry Lockner – Willem Dafoe
Mungo Tenant – William Hope
Detective Dixon – Geff Francis
Robbie Kononsberg – Steven Hartley
Chrissie Morgan – Mary Beth Hurt

Credits

Running time: 108 minutes

Director: Paul Schrader
Production companies: Kintop Pictures, Ingenious Film Partners, Asia Pacific Films, Isle of Man Film, Path
US distribution: THINKFilm
Producer: Deepak Nayar
Executive producers: Willi Baer, Steve Christian, James Clayton, Parseghian Planco, Duncan Reid
Screenplay: Paul Schrader
Cinematography: Chris Seager
Editor: Julian Rodd
Production design: James Merifield
Music: Anne Dudley

 

Reviewed by Tim Grierson