Paul Schrader blends lethargic self-referentiality with anemic political jabs in The Walker, a murky, lead-footed character study-cum-murder mystery concerning Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson), a D.C. dandy who spends his days and nights escorting politicos’ wives around town and dishing dirt with them over games of canasta. He’s known as a walker, and he’s another member of Schrader’s “lonely man” club, with his relationship to Richard Gere’s Julian Kaye in American Gigolo made plain by a sequence in which the camera lingers on Carter’s meticulously laid-out ties and cufflinks before settling on the sight of him removing his toupee and, by extension, exposing himself as defenseless beneath his debonair “suit of armor.”
Harrelson affects a syrupy Southern drawl and inflated effeminate manner, and though he attempts to infuse his well-bred protagonist with a bitterness born from constant unflattering comparisons to his Watergate-hero father, the devilish smirk he flashes often seems to be the actor’s own admission that his performance is a thing of overcooked affectations. Carter finds himself persecuted by a resentful, self-serving attorney general after he escorts long-time chum Lynn (a typically chilly Kristen Scott Thomas) to an extramarital rendezvous, where she finds her lobbyist lover dead. Much of what follows involves Carter’s personal investigation into the whodunit, an inquiry aided by his paparazzo boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu), who’s intent on securing a gallery show for his nude-male-prisoners-in-hoods “agitprop” photos, and complicated by his powerful lady acquaintances (Lauren Bacall and Lilly Tomlin).
Schrader alternates between delivering cockeyed Cat People compositions and frail barbs at the current government, the latter almost as transparent and simplistic as his thriller plot is opaque and inconsequential. The director’s interests lie not with generating any sense of real intrigue but instead with examining the inner turmoil of Carter, who, alas, can’t hold up to such scrutiny, since he’s basically a caricature pretending to be a real person. The Walker fixates on surfaces while casting Carter’s predicament as symptomatic of the vindictive, duplicitous culture fostered by our “mean” administration. However, as evidenced by the climactic showdown between Carter and Ned Beatty’s bigwig, what the film ultimately amounts to is merely a crude condemnation of right-wingers as—gasp!—homophobic.