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"Whoever has looked deeply into the world might well guess what wisdom
lies in the superficiality of men," is a quotation attributed to
Nietzsche. The first half of The Walker could be said to demonstrate
such a principle, particularly the mien of its chief protagonist,
Carter Page III (flawlessly played by Woody Harrelson). Yet the second
half would give that observation an altogether more cynical meaning.
One appropriate to the very men that Page despises.
Page exhibits the exquisite superficiality ("I'm not naïve: I'm superficial") so often associated with camp intellectuals (as well as a capacity for self-adulation). We first meet him during an opening panning shot that examines the luxurious wall fabrics in the room where several voices can be heard. Wall furnishings are something that Page III can associate with. Both in a literal aesthetic sense, and also as a man that is walled in by the societal prejudices against his homosexuality. One step removed from the visceral world of those who can openly admit their true feelings, Page III examines the details of everyday life with dispassion and critical elegance. But when his friend Lynn Lockner (wife of a liberal senator) discovers a murder, he is torn between two paths, both equally morally repugnant.
While not quite a saint, Page III has a much higher sense of decency than the political connivers and sexually bigoted people that surround him. These people use superficial appearances to make money, win office, or rise at any cost. Their 'wisdom' is simply that of the top dog having torn and bloodied anyone who stood in their way.
Bacall, instantly recognisable by her charismatic voice, is the perfect foil for Page's charm and mendacity. Quick-witted, she reminds us of her early characters in films like To Have and Have Not and Key Largo. "You were just a young slip of a girl, not the beautiful woman you are now," says Page. "Cut the sh*t!" she replies, without for a minute losing her majestic gravitas.
Page is a 'Walker' although working one day a week in a real estate office, his main income is comes from when he "walks rich women from place to place." The term was coined for Jerry Zipkin, who was Nancy Reagan's 'walker'. His duties include amusing gossip, taking Lynn to the opera and a weekly game of canasta. Immaculately dressed and coiffured, he inhabits the world of the unostentatiously rich without ever becoming a main player. His father was a respected governor and his father before him a successful businessman ("My grandfather always talked like a man with a bible half-open in his head."). He is gay, and therefore not a threat. And he is well-read, well-bred, and a delightful conversationalist.
Yet although Harrelson stars in every scene, The Walker succeeds very much as an ensemble piece. Bacall and Kristin Scott Thomas have a fair share of excellent lines. "Memory is a very unreliable organ," says Bacall: "It's right up there with the penis." Kristin Scott Thomas also gives Page a fair run for his money. When he says dismissively in a conversation that, "it's just sex," she retorts with, "And that stuff you're breathing is just oxygen!" Page has an unlikely lover in the form of Emek Yoglu, a German-Turkish artist whose photography is too politically loaded for Page's tastes. But the main man in Page's life is his dead father, who symbolises both the success Page III has never achieved and perhaps moral double-standards that he loathes. Yet at the same time Page himself leads a life a double-life, not out of choice but because it is forced on him.
Writer/director Paul Schrader picked Washington DC as the setting for the film because of "the deep hypocrisy of the town, Washington and Salt lake City are two of the last cities in America where sexual hypocrisy is mandated, and here is a character living a false and superficial life, so it seemed an ideal place for it." It is one of Schrader's best scripts (apart from a few unlikely coincidences to move the plot along) and the performances are perfect. The lush cinematography sucks us into the world of the rich and stylish (with Bryan Ferry songs to assure us it's OK) so that 'reality' in the form of murder most foul is all the more unsettling. Only as the authorities brazenly attempt to implicate Page do some of his hairs come out of place. "This is a mean crowd, this administration," he admits falteringly. (Lynn calls them 'the cave dwellers'). They can't catch him for what he hasn't done so they'll find something else. "It's perjury that catches people out," the investigator says to him (with shades of Clinton witch-hunting).
The loner-whose-world-crumbles-around him is a favourite premise for Schrader and the subtle political complexities are home territory for Harrelson, who is no stranger to such themes in films such as North Country, Wag the Dog, Welcome to Sarajevo and The People vs. Larry Flynt. But the film's weakness is its constant subtlety. We are expected to be fascinated by the undercurrents, the hidden cards so much so that some audiences may switch off. The Walker is clever and perfectly executed but, like its subject matter, is a superficial observer of the dilemmas it grapples with at arm's length.
Perhaps such prominence of aesthetics over substance is the way to provoke discussion of the problems dealt with so obtusely. "I think film is a great medium to be able to discuss such issues," says Kristin Scott Thomas. "Although politics changes very rapidly, it also repeats itself over and over in a different context. When you see films that are making a comment about the political situation of a certain time and then you see another film thirty years later and you have the same kind of issue, it creates discussion and that is very important."
Harrelson is Carter Page III. Unfortunate son of a great man, fortunate
son of a dynasty of plantation owners; what does he do? He spends a day
a week as a real estate agent and fails to chase up a gallery opening
for his lover's photography. What he really does is move with grace
through the social circles of the Washington wives. All is well,
passing off lines of Tennessee Williams and playing canasta, until by
chance he is dragged into a murder investigation. Forced, in his own
words, into a choice between "being disloyal and being dishonest" the
film follows Carter's progress as events take him into murkier waters
where it is no longer enough just to smile at the chaos and hope that
it will pass.
In Schrader's script the dialogue crackles, for the most part, and the narrative is traced out with skill. The film does not aspire to the pace of a thriller but achieves a constant tension. Harrelson's performance is magnificent and he is ably supported by Bacall, Scott-Thomas and a sphinx like Geff Francis as the detective on the case.
'The Walker' is not a genre film and may disappoint those looking for a ripping yarn about a murder, but judged on its own terms it is a success. There are off notes; moments of dialogue strike as contrived and some imagery is unsubtle, but all said it is engrossing and like all really good cinema there can be no doubt that it is about something important.
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.
Great script, direction and acting.
The pacing is deliberate as character development (and exposition) is so key to the story. On the other hand, the last few scenes of the film seem a bit rushed as the main source of dramatic tension is resolved somewhat abruptly.
Overall a strong film, with standout performances from Harrelson, Bacall, Scott-Thomas, and Bleibtreu.
On a more personal note ...
I screened this at the Toronto International Film Festival as it premiered at Roy Thomson Hall. There was a projection problem midway into the film, caused by a bad splice. An intermission was announced to give the technical team sufficient time to re-splice the film.
During this intermission, which ended up stretching to nearly 45 minutes, Mr. Schrader and Ms. Bacall took the stage and entertained the audience with a far-ranging and candid Q & A session. This was a very generous and gracious gesture, and very much appreciated.
It was a real treat to see Ms. Bacall in this film and at the premiere. She is a legend many times over, and 60+ years into her storied career, she continues to exude class, strength and glamour. They don't make stars like this anymore, and we are the poorer for it.
THE WALKER (defined as a man who escorts rich ladies around town in
their leisure) is both a pungent political comment and a fine mystery
from Paul Schrader who both wrote and directed this smart film and had
the good fortune to surround his tale with a fine cast of actors. It
may not be a film for everyone, but it will satisfy viewers who tire of
superficial fluff films, allowing time to ponder the way we live and
Carter Page III (Woody Harelson in one of his finest performances) is an openly gay, well- heeled, dapper man about town who devotes his life to pleasing the wealthy wives of men in high government levels in Washington, DC. Together with Abby (Lily Tomlin), Natalie (Lauren Bacall), Chrissy (Mary Beth Hurt), and Lynn (Kristin Scott Thomas) the group gossips, plays canasta in an expensive hotel parlor, and confides secrets that are surefire rumor fodder. Lynn is escorted by Carter to her lover's home for a tryst only to find the lover murdered. Carter attempts to protect Lynn from scandal only to become implicated himself. Carter discovers secrets about his own insecurities, and while he is solidly supported by his lover Emek (the excellent Moritz Bleibtreu), an artist of strange works that prove subtle background connotations of the mystery that is unwinding, he must face the realities of his decision when confronting husbands, lawyers, police, and intelligence agents (portrayed by such fine actors as Ned Beatty, Willem Defoe, William Hope and Geff Francis). The story is, in many ways, an examination of the corruption in Washington, DC - a fact that may explain why it did not enjoy a long theater run.
For viewers who appreciate fine dialogue and a smart story with well-delineated characters portrayed by superb actors, this is a film that should not be neglected. Grady Harp
THE WALKER is an extremely biting, well written, dark suspense thriller
by Paul Schrader with a knock out cast of actors that blend right into
their nasty characters with humor and a killing sense of themselves and
their self worth. As one character points out, "it's always about the
money", and in THE WALKER, I would say that it is ALWAYS about POWER
and the perception of what people think of you and the power you hold.
Woody Harrelson is simply terrific in his role of "Walker", and you are reminded of Truman Capote and the attention he gave to society women to propel his importance of being a "gossip monger". The film also brings to the surface the superficiality of "nail a star, be a star", and the underlying elements of what it takes to make it in Washington politics. THE WALKER, like CAPOTE and INFAMOUS, leaves you with a desire to find a life built on something more than being famous and well known and for Woody Harrelson, to create a relationship built upon the honesty of his sexuality.
I never understand why people who hate a movie, take the time to write paragraphs about it. Why not just let it go and try to find some film which they like and say something good about it? I'm an avid moviegoer and collector as I have some 30,000 titles in my library and I see hundreds of new films every year. "The Walker" didn't play in a theatre near me, so I had to wait for the DVD to be released. I enjoyed it so much, I had to sit through it a second time, immediately. It's so rare to find a movie written by an adult, for adults, with an all adult cast. It's been years since I've been so entertained as I was with the dialogue and the cast all in one movie. So often in IMDb, teens will review a movie which they would never understand even it they HAD been educated and write sordid remarks of how boring a movie is...or 'the worst movie I've ever seen...'. Too bad that the editors at IMDb can't cull out these remarks when all the teens are doing is destroying a work of art. I would bet none have ever been to a symphony concert, an opera, a ballet, a live drama, but they're quick on the draw when it comes to criticizing something without car chases or cheap gag lines.IF you are a person who likes GOOD movies, do yourself a favor and see "The Walker". It's Woody's best performance...and MAN! What a treat to see Lauren Bacall still strut her stuff. She may be an octogenarian, but she can STILL act. Lily Tomlin was equally as wonderful. I won't single out all the actors, just those three performances are enough to rent or buy the DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Carter Page III is charming, witty, and very gay. As such, he has
become indispensable for a group of idle society ladies in Washington.
Carter is descendant of an aristocratic Southern family, whose lineage
goes way back in time, giving him the right to be among the rich and
powerful in the nation's capital. He dabbles in fashion and gossip; he
is the owner of an establishment where all the well connected ladies
must go for their redecorating plans. They rely on Carter Page III for
all the right chintz to cover their mansions.
When we first meet him, he is playing cards with three of his closest friends, Lynn, his favorite, Natalie, an older lady, and Abigail. All these women love Carter's repartee. After all, Carter is famous for his connections as well as his epigrams and wit. Lynn, in particular, seems to rely on Carter to be with her when she goes to her trysts. Carter loves the idea of being of service to such an important woman, who also happens to be a U.S. senator's wife.
The problem is the lover is dead in his apartment. Lynn, who has a lot at stake, must not be connected in any way to a scandal, let alone one in which sex is involved. Lynn realizes what she stands to lose right away; she never took into consideration the consequence of what she was doing. It is at this particular moment that she decides to drop Carter like a hot potato.
Carter, who had nothing to do with the murder, is a suspect. Never mind he is having an affair with a Turkish photographer and has nothing to do with Lynn's problem. Since his name circulates with the slaying, all the society friends avoid him like the plague. Let's face it, he was good while he was not connected in any way with the crime, but now, everyone turns his back on him.
Paul Schrader, who wrote and directed "The Walker", is a man with an uncanny gift for setting up a definite style in the movies. Proof of this was his "American Gigolo", which hasn't got anything to do with this film, but the viewer can finds traces of the former picture in this one in unexpected places.
Woody Harrelson's Carter is an amazing characterization for an actor that tends to select other kinds of roles for his movie appearances. He is the embodiment of a fastidious gay man about town that loves to escort the right kind of woman to all those opera galas and dinners which are avoided by the husband like the plague. He is perfect for the part.
Kristin Scott Thomas, an elegant actress, is also at her best in her take of Lynn, a politician's wife who cares more about her reputation in society at whatever expense. Lauren Bacall plays Natalie, a wise old woman who has seen too much of the behind scenes situations in Washington and the only one that shows sympathy toward Carter. Lily Tomlin is the last one of the initial group, a woman married to a powerful man who also abandons her friend. Ned Beatty plays Abigail's husband and William Dafoe is totally wasted as Lynn's husband.
The costumes by Nic Ede give the idea of the elegant world these people move in. James Merifield's production design gives us a taste for those places one rarely gets a chance to see. The cinematography is by Chris Seager who captures that world of opulence well.
Paul Schrader shows a talent for glorifying the banalities in that rarefied world of politics and money.
To be a walker is to be something if not someone or, if you prefer, a walker is someone without being something. Whatever way you look at it, there is something that it's desperately not there. Woody Harrelson and his character, act. Acting as a way of life. Trying to be trivial all the time runs the risk of making triviality something truly important. We're standing on the sidelines looking in without seeing because if we saw, well, if we saw, things may be dramatically different. This is a film by Paul Schrader - a master in getting into the hearts and souls of the outsiders - and Harrelson is an outsider living in, with a very specific awareness. Great! A film to savor and listen to, attentively. Not very often one can actually say that. Other than Harrelson, Lauren Bacall, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily Tomlin shine.
The Walker is about a profession many of us aren't aware of: socialites
like Mr. Carter Page III, who escort ladies who happened to be the
wives of senators and congressman around Washington DC and play cards
and socialize (hence the 'social' part of the title). But it's also
about a murder mystery, where a man is killed who is connected with
Lynn Lockner, married to senator Larry Lockner. Who killed him, for
what motive, and what are the connections and the fall-out of the
scandal, are all a part of the narrative for Paul Schrader, the
mind-games of Washington, the slick veneer and quietly accepted facts
of corruption and greed and, usually, scandal. But it's also about this
man, the Walker, how he is viewed by the women he is polite to (indeed
his politeness is pointed out as a weakness, as "Don't be so polite" in
this DC society), and his own self flagged by the legacy of his father,
a hero in the eyes of many in DC. Oh, and he's gay, though this is only
the ice on the cake.
For Paul Schrader, it's a mature work that shows him skillfully working out this side of DC that is fresh in perspective. He is able to write the dramatic scenes much better, however, than those of that of a thriller. One senses Schrader's investment in his own material hit high points when he just has two people in a room talking about the heart of a matter, like an argument between Carter and Emek that is really all about Carter's father but exactly about Carter the whole time, or a scene between Carter and Lauren Bacall's elder lady when he finds out a vital piece of information (the "black sheep" dialog). Scenes like those are very good, while a chase scene down an alley feels weaker, filmed with tired and repetitive dutch angles and close-ups.
So, if it isn't quite one of Schrader's best films, albeit not his worst, it is definitely an achievement for Harrelson. He disappears into the character of Carter Page III (note the III) as an effeminate but strong-willed Southern man who hides his baldness with a hair piece and keeps his politeness and calm demeanor as something that is partly natural and partly a cover for what is really deep down someone who has disappointed others around him. It's so fascinating to see this actor who, indeed, once was a co-star in White Men Can't Jump, tackle such a complex character and succeed in every scene with depth and sensitivity and subtlety. He is nothing less than totally absorbing, especially up against old pros like Bacall and Ned Beatty.
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