2007, R, 108 min. Directed by Paul Schrader. Starring Woody Harrelson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall, Ned Beatty, Moritz Bleibtreu, Mary Beth Hurt, Lily Tomlin, Willem Dafoe, William Hope.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Dec. 21, 2007
Armed with a wardrobe of perfectly tailored suits, a carefully trimmed mustache, and a collection of impeccable bons mots that ooze from his mouth in waves of Virginia syrup, Carter Page III (Harrelson) is a Southern Oscar Wilde let loose in present-day Washington, D.C. His role in life is to entertain the bored wives of politicians with gossip and clever character assassinations while they play canasta, and like any high-society dandy worth the name, he's always ready with a damaging quip. "The wheel is turning," he says of one less-than-intelligent senator, "but the hamster is dead." Page's life is an easy mixture of cufflinks, afternoon sea breezes, and distant gentility, until the murder of a local financier – who was also the illicit lover of his friend and senator's wife Lynn Lockner (Thomas) – puts Page's homosexuality and left-wing political leanings on the radar of an ambitious and conservative Justice Department lawyer deliciously named Mungo Tenant (a suitably salivating Hope). On the surface, The Walker is about Page's private investigation into the murder and his attempt to clear his name, but in reality the film is an excoriation of Mungo – or, more to the point, all the Mungos who have made names for themselves over the last six years by wallowing in the scorched-earth environment of revenge and secrecy that has come to define George W. Bush's Washington. Writer/director Schrader makes his less-than-amicable feelings about the current administration clear, but considering his list of writing credits – which includes Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Affliction – I can't help wondering how all that obvious malice and disillusion got ground down into a script as inoffensive as The Walker. Where's all the grim psychological probing we've come to know and love? Where are the random bursts of graphic violence and bloody noses? How great would it have been to see Mungo on the receiving end of a Jake La Motta-style thumping? As it stands, despite its juicy subject matter – sex, murder, scandal, adultery, Republicans – The Walker is guilty of the most mortal of all movie sins: It's dull. Even a violent, late-night near-blinding in the back room of a bar fails to get the blood moving. It's as if Schrader, like his hero, has retreated behind a wall of verbal sophistication and moral indifference as a way of protecting himself from a culture that's become too cruel and cynical to abide.