Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Some Dandy Talking

The Walker, Cineworld, Broad Street, Birmingham, Saturday August 25 2007 4.35pm.

Paul Schrader's The Walker (2007) features Woody Harrelson as Carter Page III, the son of a famous politician who acts as an escort to a number of rich, bored housewives in Washington DC, liberally sprinkling his conversation with bon mots and tittle-tattle during the games of bridge and cultural excursions that the women's husbands can't be bothered with. Underneath the surface of this existence, however, Carter is gay, balding beneath his toupe and insecure in terms of his relationship with a would-be artist and the shadow cast by his father's reputation. 'I'm not naive, just superficial', he states in his own defence, but this cocooned existence unravels when one of the ladies (senator's wife Kristin Scott Thomas) walks him straight into a murder mystery. Doors are closed in his face as he is forced to choose between disloyalty and dishonesty, in the process having to get to grips with who he is and what he stands for.

Schrader returns to directing one of his own scripts with The Walker and if for no other reason is a must-see for fans of the legendary screenwriter given the multiple references and allusions to his previous work. The most obvious comparison would be American Gigolo given a blue-rinse makeover, with Harrelson's character dispensing not sex but company, an in-demand commodity in a community where relationships are calculated and using rather than steeped in love and empathy. Like Willem Dafoe's drug runner in Light Sleeper he finds his usefulness shortlived and his relationships found wanting when the shit hits the pan. And like Nick Nolte's character in Affliction, Carter Page III finds his life defined in terms of his relationship with his own father and through a murder mystery finds some resolve to do something about it.

Schrader's film begins in unlikely fashion with a genteel game of bridge, but whodunnit tradition would suggest one of his playing partners (performed by Scott-Thomas, Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin and Schrader regular Mary Beth Hurt) are guilty of more than cheating at cards. Yet in a Washington where the senator (another Schrader regular Willem Dafoe) himself states that his wife has a much over-inflated view of her importance within 'the bigger picture', it steadily emerges that it's less a case of 'cherchez la femme' and more a case of 'follow the money'.

So what we have is rogue Schrader business as usual - there is a murder, and there's a mystery, but to all intents they're mutually exclusive, with the former acting as the 'red herring' to allow an exploration of the latter. To clarify, the murder itself ultimately has a predictably mundane explanation, but the deeper mystery Harrelson's character contends with is 'what makes a man what he is' and what he can do about it. Not your obvious multiplex fodder then, but with Schrader's judicious use of music and a script rammed with (political and cinematic) subtext and sharp, incisive dialogue, it's a crackling and defining addition to the oeuvre for one of the few directors left in Hollywood who can be genuinely considered an auteur. And Harrelson breathes new life into his stalling career with a bold and commanding central performance as the titular walker, which could see him take a stroll up the red carpet come Oscartime.



Post a Comment

<< Home