Writer/director Paul Schrader has built The Walker around a gay man of style and superficiality (Woody Harrelson) who escorts rich Washington women to lunch and to the cultural events that their powerful husbands scorn. When a friend's lobbyist lover ends up dead, Carter Page III's resolve is tested by enemies on the Right, confirming the cynical political adage, 'if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.'
Scenes from Iraq on TV news and talk of character assassination and betrayal by the White House come up throughout. Emek, Page's boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu), a newspaper photographer, can't get his pictures of torture victims shown in a gallery.
Yet counting on the film's topicality may be a miscalculation in the marketplace. The film's scandal is less incendiary than the daily headlines - whether it's the Jack Abramoff lobbying scams, the Scooter Libbey character assassination gambit, or official manipulations of intelligence.
Americans have 24-hour news for these stories, although Harrelson, Lauren Bacall and Lily Tomlin could bring their fans out to theatres. In foreign territories, the film can count on strong anti-Bush sentiment globally, which shows no sing of waning.
Carter Page III, son of a politician and grandson of a Virginia planter, knows the town's secrets and dirt, and shares it all with choice women. An interior decorator and real estate broker to the rich, he plays cards with a troika of ladies (Tomlin, Bacall and Kristin Scott Thomas) who love his jokes, fine grooming and wallpaper tips.
When a senator's wife Lynn Lockner (Thomas) finds her lover's bloody body, Harrelson troubleshoots to protect her and her husband from getting smeared, and almost gets himself killed.
'Car' comes under attack from the US Attorney, Mungo Tenant (William Hope) who smells liberal blood. Yet the corporate scandal that the murder victim could have exposed soon implicates a large company, a major law firm, and the government itself.
The prosecution of the dapper 'Car' is called off, but he's already been abandoned by his former friends. For companionship, he adopts the dead man's cat. No kidding.
As Page, Harrelson plays a gossip, more refined than bitchy, who's chagrined that Washington has less depth than even he imagined. Schrader focuses on his inner struggle once the body turns up, sacrificing plot tension and action.
What could have been a chilling story with serious political implications, although never dull, never really gets frightening. As the Fed's pursuit of Page intensifies and unravels, characters get preachy, as if to make up for lost time.
Bacall, Tomlin and Thomas fit the template of smug 'ladies who lunch' with time on their hands, feeding on nasty stories. Costume designer Nic Ede dresses them for the part. Harrelson is garbed in foppish suits, befitting his vocation. His convincing toupee is part of the uniform.
Interiors, shot on the Isle of Man, come close enough to Washington not to get in the way of the story. The problem is that the fictional story can't compete with the real stuff which, as the saying goes, you can't make up.
Ingenious Film Partners
Asia Pacific Films
Isle of Man Film
Pathe Pictures International
Director of Photography
Kristin Scott Thomas
Mary Beth Hurt