‘I’m not naive, I’m superficial’, smiles Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson), the latest in a memorable line of existential loners created by Paul Schrader. (His predecessors include Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Julian Kay in American Gigolo and John La Tour in Light Sleeper). The son of a revered former governor from Virginia, the immaculately attired and openly gay Carter is the titular ‘walker’, who dabbles in real estate and escorts society ladies to public functions in Washington DC. When his friend Lynn (Kristin Scott Thomas), the wife of a high-ranking Democrat politician, discovers that her lobbyist lover has been murdered, Carter comes to her defence, becoming himself a prime suspect in the police investigation.
The murder mystery in The Walker, with its accompanying smears, blackmails and whispering campaigns, is the catalyst for a revealing character study of a Wildean individual forced to confront his own superficiality. Those seeking an action-driven thriller will be disappointed: in this gossip-ridden milieu, it’s words that prove wounding. Shunned by those who had previously treasured his urbanity – only his photographer boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu) remains consistently supportive – and afflicted by the burden of his father’s reputation, Carter is faced with a stark choice between dishonour and disloyalty.
Schrader presents a credibly pungent vision of post 9/11 domestic politics in America, where Republican interests are desperately seeking revenge for the Clinton years. As Ned Beatty’s influential fixer explains: ‘I never ran for office – I love power too much.’ Elegantly shot, and impressively acted by its ensemble cast (which includes Lauren Bacall as a redoubtable Washington widow), The Walker may not be a major Schrader work, yet it bodes well for his already completed ambitious Holocaust drama Adam Resurrected. (Tom Dawson)
GFT, Glasgow, Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected cinemas from Fri 10 Aug.