Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson) is effete, witty, charming, full of himself and full of ripe, juicy, trenchant commentary on the Washington social scene and its denizens. He has to be - it is literally his life. Carter is what's known in Washingtonian parlance as a "walker". He squires about the rich and powerful wives of the rich and powerful men on the Hill, whenever they require a male escort to attend dinners, benefits and other social gatherings. You know - the ones their husbands would rather jump off a building than attend. And because Carter is a bonafied "Friend of Dorothy," there's none of that pesky bother of having to worry if he'll climb into the wives' beds, the way he slips so smoothly into their confidences.
But somewhere between the glittering parties and the bon-mot laden games of canasta, reality bites in the form of a brutal murder; the victim being the lover of one of Carter's "special friends." Ever the dutiful confidante, Carter covers for her without realizing exactly what he's letting himself in for, especially when the connections he thought he had begin to dry up and wither like the flowers on a table from a party that ended years ago. Though he literally has spent his life putting the "art" into artifice, Carter must now look beyond the boundaries of his superficiality and that of his so-called friends and acquaintances, if he wants to save his own hide.
The "outsider looking in", even if he is part of the world that holds him at arm's length is one of director Paul Schrader's favorite themes; one he has visited repeatedly, whether he served as a writer (TAXI DRIVER), a director (AUTO FOCUS) or both (AMERICAN GIGOLO) as he does here. As he explores it yet again using the country's seat of power as his landscape, he is certainly served well by an outstanding cast.
Harrelson's acting has never been as subtle and yet powerful as he inhabits Carter, rather than just playing the character. Kristin Scott-Thomas radiates beauty and desperation as his friend-in-trouble, and the ensemble is well-rounded out by Willem Dafoe as Scott-Thomas's husband; the regal presence of Lauren Bacall; Lily Tomlin in a very restrained mode as a power broker's wife; Ned Beatty as her husband, Mary Beth Hurt as another one of Carter's "canasta" group and William Hope as an extremely unpleasant Attorney General who is very reminiscent of a certain Mr. Spitzer.
Special mention must be made of Moritz Bleibtreu as Emek, Carter's German-Iranian boyfriend and the only person who really stands by him when the designer crap hits the fan, and has nothing to gain from it but his partner's love. (Well, there IS the matter of finding a gallery to exhibit his politically-charged photo art, based explicitly on the the Abu Ghraib scandal). But kudos to Bleibtreu for matching Harrelson as they modulate the complexities of their relationship without falling back on the usual stereotypical tics and camp flourishes.
With the lush production design and costuming augmented by the oh-so fitting songs of Brian Ferry (which Anne Dudley's nearly ambient score is based upon), THE WALKER is a pretty film to look at and be taken in by...as pretty and alluring as Carter is himself. Until you discover - as he himself does - that underneath all the trappings, the wealth, the elitist vanity is a void, where friendship, compassion, love, fidelity...not a single one of those things really exists. The movie isn't so much about him solving the murder mystery that hangs over him like the Sword of Damocles, but the "mystery of his own life" - finding all of those things he traded in for life among the political elite.
Not a light and frivolous way to pass the time, much like most Schrader films. In fact, many viewers might turn it off before getting halfway through. But the Oscar-worthy work from Harrelson is definitely worth sticking around for.
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