- Rated R
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Reviewed by Bob Westal
ike 1980’s now-classic “American Gigolo,” and 1992’s vastly underrated “Light Sleeper” (starring Willem Dafoe as a drug dealer with a heart of gold), “The Walker” is another mystery/character study from writer-director Paul Schrader about a seemingly shallow, or even amoral, man who turns out to be made of stronger stuff. While the low-key thriller plot here is even more muddled than usual, and the character study aspects are perhaps even less clear, there is still some thoughtful entertainment to be had here.
The star of this morality play is Carter “Car” Page III (Woody Harrelson), the flamboyantly gay, beautifully dressed, artificially coiffed (in the film’s most memorable shot, Car turns out as bald as Jeffrey Tambor) man about town. He’s the not-so-successful son of a legendary, long-deceased senator and Watergate-era hero who spends the bulk of his time as a “walker” – a man who accompanies rich women to social events. (Whether or how he is actually paid for this service remains obscure.) Mainly, we see him playing cards and trading largely salacious gossip with three of D.C.’s best known middle-aged and older socialites: Kristin Scott Thomas plays the woman he is perhaps closest to; Lynn Lockner is the well-known wife of a liberal senator (Willem Dafoe); Lily Tomlin is the unhappy spouse of a conservative power broker (Ned Beatty, returning to playing Tomlin’s less than ideal husband 20 years after “Nashville”). Classic era screen siren Lauren Bacall is an elderly socialite and, because of her age or because she’s Betty Bacall, damnit, the most honest of the women.
When Car drives Lynn to a rendezvous with a lover, Lynn informs him that she has just discovered the man’s murdered corpse. Denying any involvement in the killing, she tells him that both her and her husband’s careers would be “destroyed” if she were connected to the murder scene. Trying his best to keep the woman’s name out of the investigation, Car ends up reporting the crime and soon finds himself the center of a politically driven probe that seems to be centered on Lynn. The sub-Kenneth Starr investigation strains Car’s entire life, including his tenuous relationship with his Arab-American photographer boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtrieu); Car may be flamboyantly gay, but that doesn’t make him comfortable with his sexual identity. Soon, frightening physical threats and intimidation enter the picture as Car tries to puzzle out the situation, and the logical thing to do is simply admit that it was the senator’s wife who found the body. The only reasons not to do this are those old chestnuts, loyalty and friendship.
“The Walker” suffers from a number of problems, including an overly complex, even haphazard plot that tries, but fails, to make a strong commentary on the increasingly hazardous (both to individuals and the country as a whole) inside-the-beltway political scene during the era of W and Karl Rove. Figuring things out is made harder by Harrelson’s syrupy Southern accent, and a soundtrack that could have used a little re-looping. (I kept reaching for the replay button, particularly in one moment when Lauren Bacall seems to have a hard time with Charlton Heston’s first name.) Still, the tale is ultimately rescued by mostly strong acting and flashes of wit, as well as the thought and emotional sincerity that mark Paul Schrader’s work. While Woody Harrelson’s mush-mouthed accent is a bit much at times and his performance didn’t get the Oscar nomination the filmmakers were hoping for, he does hit all the important emotional chords. It really has been a long time since Woody Boyd.
Single-Disc DVD Review: This ThinkFilm package is minimal at best – the kind of DVD that includes Spanish subtitles as a “special feature.” This time, the only actual special feature (trailers don’t count!) is a “making of” documentary that’s reasonably informative and interesting – for three and a half minutes. It’s also worth mentioning that the package copy does not mention the sexual orientation of Woody Harrelson’s character. (Political-ethical issues aside, it’s not like “The Walker” appeals to a particularly macho/homophobic demographic.)