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The Walker

Nicola Mostyn is left wondering whodunit after watching Woody Harrelson’s latest venture

Published on August 14th 2007.

The Walker

The Walker opens to disembodied voices gossiping as the camera pans across exquisite interior décor, to eventually land on a canasta game with some formidable acting talent at the table.

Kristin Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall and Lily Tomlin play a trio of society women in Washington DC, with Woody Harrelson resplendent in moustache, hairpiece and expensive tailoring as Carter Page III, a ‘walker’ to the wives of DC’s rich and powerful.

As a walker, Page’s duties include delivering scandalous titbits, flattering his charges, accompanying them on shopping trips and, in the case of Scott Thomas’ unhappily married Lynn Lockner, driving them to their latest assignation with their lover.

But when Lynn turns up to find her paramour stabbed to death, Page’s decision to cover for her and ‘discover’ the body himself leads him into uncertain territory, where the loyalty of his friends, as well as his front of unfailing politeness, are tested to the limit.

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, this is a strange sort of film. Early in the film, after news of the murder has spread, Abigail Delorean (Tomlin) remarks that it is all a bit ‘Murder She Wrote’ and she’s not wrong. There’s more than a whiff of the made-for-TV-movie about this drama, with its lingering shots of suburbia, it’s curiously ponderously plot and its occasional forays into on-the-nose dialogue.

While the mannered speech, witty bon mots and stylish but shallow facade of Washington DC's political set makes for intriguing subject matter – especially when viewed from the vantage point of a gay man paid to flatter and amuse - this is not really enough to sustain a film, especially not one whose murder plot reads like a particularly dull bit in the US Constitution.

Schrader favours a focus on characters who are out of step with their enviroment (he wrote the screenplay for Scorsese's Taxi Driver and directed American Gigolo). And, indeed, the moments where Page is faced with the disloyalty of his friends (and thus the instability of his life) are some of the film’s most compelling. But this doesn’t emerge as The Walker’s central theme, and neither, really, does the murder plot.

In fact Schrader splits the focus so many different ways that the film becomes a blur: while we ponder Page’s relationship with his well-meaning boyfriend, the actions of his good-buddy-gone-AWOL Lynn, the truth about his esteemed Governor father, the machinations of the men in power and what lies behind Page’s carefully-groomed exterior, there’s hardly enough time left to worry about exactly why that man got stabbed in the crotch. (I’m still pretty much in the dark about that).

Harrelson was brilliant, of course, and it is pleasing to see that Kristin Scott Thomas’ ability to play the brittle, repressed beauty only increases with age, but their finely-tuned turns couldn’t quite make up for this film’s lack of drive.

By the time there was any kind of action at all – if you can call one man chasing another man up the street action – I immediately sat up in my seat and realised that I had been nursing a hope that Carter Page III would turn out to be a closet psychopath, had committed the murder himself, and was about to embark upon a crazed, politico-hunting rampage, toupee and all. Sadly, he didn’t seem keen to get his suit mucky.

The Walker (15), Cornerhouse until Thu Aug 23.

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