This review was written for the festival review of "The Walker."
BERLIN -- Paul Schrader's careerlong meditation on the outsider continues in "The Walker," a cool and calculated look at a "superficial" man who drifts through Washington politics while trying not to get his tailored cuffs dirty. Carter Page III is, as Schrader has said, an update on his "American Gigolo" character. Car, played by Woody Harrelson in an eye-catching performance, is an older and more refined hustler who works as a society "walker," a gay man who escorts the wives of politicians and lobbyists to events that don't interest their husbands.
The film, which is screening Out of Competition here, goes against mainstream Hollywood currents. While it can be labeled a thriller or a murder mystery, the film is talky, unhurried, contains little action and shows more interest in how characters think and behave than in its plot. It should do very well in Europe and with careful marketing could perform above average with North American adult audiences thanks to the smart, against-type casting of Harrelson.
Like its protagonist, the movie keeps its distance from the bare-knuckled world of D.C. politics. Car and the movie stick to the world of the wives. They play canasta every Wednesday, attend operas and put in appearances in the husbands' world only when required.
Despite a political pedigree -- his father was a U.S. senator and Virginia governor -- Car feels more at home with women and gossip. His late daddy still casts a long shadow, so he operates beyond its reach. Yet he can't shake a morbid fascination with the world of wealth and power.
Part of his outsider status stems from his homosexuality, a condition never fully accepted in D.C. society, and partly, the movie gradually makes clear, from his own deep reservations about the supposed greatness of his forbearers. When that legacy includes slave owning and tobacco farming, you understand his embrace of the role of a "black sheep."
His three main clients are Lynn (Kristin Scott Thomas), the wife of a liberal senator (Willem Dafoe), Abby (Lily Tomlin), the wife of a crafty power broker (Ned Beatty) and Natalie (Lauren Bacall), the grande dame of the set who speaks in the voice of dearly earned wisdom.
When Lynn finds the body of her murdered lover, Carter agrees to be the one who "finds" the body in order to shield her and her husband from political embarrassment. But a politically ambitious right-wing D.A. (William Hope) spins a web of suspicion and innuendo in hopes of catching both Lynn and Carter.
As the doors to D.C.'s inner circle close to Car, he and his paparazzi boyfriend, Emek Yoglu (German actor Moritz Bleibtreu), launch their own investigation, which leads to threats and the beating of Emek by a mysterious thug.
Harrelson digs deep for this portrait of shallowness. The Southern loquaciousness, polished charm and studied mannerisms of his walker represent a cartoon of old-fashioned gentlemanliness. It's a facade that reveals itself with every pirouette.
But it does allow him to disappear from himself. In reality, he's a man of considerable depth who takes pains to hide that side. Only in his scenes with Emek does Car display his cunning and intelligence. With his life literally on the line, Car finally must reach out for Emek -- and may have to re-invent himself one more time.
Schrader's direction is smooth and richly detailed but mostly in service of his screenplay. It's unclear whether he needed to make this a murder mystery, or whether he couldn't find another way to sketch this character and tell his story without resorting to melodrama. The murder does serve though to put Carter into a crisis and watch him unravel in a cool, almost bemused way that befits a Southern gentleman.
Not enough is really done with the trio of women friends, who are all cut from the same bolt of cloth. Only Emek stands out among the men, and even here you would like to know more about how these two men fit in with each other.
The production, shot mostly in the U.K. with D.C. exteriors, benefits greatly from James Merifield's well-upholstered sets, Chris Seager's prowling camera and, given its importance to most of the characters, Nic Ede's chic costumes.
Pathe International presents a Kintop Pictures/Ingenious Film Partners/Asia Pacific Films/ Isle of Man film
Screenwriter-director: Paul Schrader
Producers: Deepak Nayar, Willi Baer, Steve Christian, James Clayton, Parseghian Planco, Duncan Reid
Director of photography: Chris Seager
Production designer: James Merifield
Music: Anne Dudley
Costume designer: Nic Ede
Editor: Julian Rodd
Carter Page III: Woody Harrelson
Lynn Lockner: Kristin Scott Thomas
Natalie Van Miter: Lauren Bacall
Jack Delorean: Ned Beatty
Emek Yoglu: Moritz Bleibtreu
Chrissie Morgan: Mary Beth Hurt
Abigail Delorean: Lily Tomlin
Larry Lockner: Willem Dafoe
Running time -- 112 minutes
No MPAA rating