The Walker Review

Dir: Paul Schrader
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall
Run. Time: 107mins

The Walker is the latest film from writer/director Paul Schrader, the man with the writing credits for Martin Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver. It’s the story of a middle-aged gay man whose occupation is that of a “walker”, a man who moves in the circles of the wives of rich men, being a friend to them in their somewhat sheltered lives. A tragedy occurs which threatens his entire lifestyle and the film plots the effect this tragedy on our protagonist and those around him.

The film deals with a number of issues. Before the central plot point, the tragedy, the film focuses on our lead character, Carter Page III. We are shown how he spends a normal day surrounded by sycophantic middle-aged women and this part of the film serves as something of a character study. Good writing and Harrelson’s performance mean that we can take a lot from small gestures and seemingly simple everyday scenes. There is a wonderful scene where he comes home after a day of “walking” and removes his mask, so to speak, which is harrowing and touching at the same time. The odd choice of eighties-style music works very well here, bringing to mind what would perhaps have been his glory years, juxtaposed with what he is now. The film explores this aspect of his personality by having other characters constantly compare him to his father, the “great man”, to admirable effect. The pace is slow but the film never seems to drag due to how fascinating many of the characters and their interactions are, so much so that the tragic turn of events seems almost unnecessary.

The pace changes once tragedy strikes. The infrastructure of this elite social structure starts to collapse and Page is unfairly caught in the middle of the affair and is essentially abandoned by those surrounding him. The film the tells a murder mystery story while at the same time showing how Carter Page has to question where is loyalties lie and on a very fundamental basis, who he is. The former seems somewhat contrived, but is competently executed with a real sense of tension and palpable pity for what may become of Carter despite his innocence. The latter is handled excellently. His journey is moving and resonant as he comes to realise what in his life truly has value and exactly how shallow and fragile his existence has been and those around him are. The film also serves to highlight the fickle nature of high society and how it is just as corrupted as any other level of existence.

The film also looks beautiful. Anything shot at night feels very dense as our protagonist tries to wade through the quagmire left in the wake of the event and really serves to draw us into the film more. I also have to say that Carter Page’s apartment was awesome.

Woody Harrelson’s performance is astounding. He is constantly tackling offbeat and challenges roles and doing so with aplomb and here is no exception. He handles what begins as an unlikeable character with charm and subtlety, keeping the audience captivated throughout. He brings strength to the multiple dilemmas faced by Page and how he handles them. He also carries the film’s more light-heartened scenes expertly. If only his roles weren’t as obscure I’m sure Woody Harrelson would be held in much higher regard within the public eye. The supporting cast is terrific, comprising veteran actresses criminally underused due to Hollywood’s huge bias towards what they perceive to be the youth market. Lauren Bacall, in particular, is very strong.

I only have two minor gripes with the film. The first is that towards the end there’s a very obvious and blunt visual metaphor which seemed out of place and unnecessary and at the very end there’s a little piece of needless exposition reminding the audience that the film wasn’t truly about the reason behind the tragedy but about the characters in the film. I’m not a marketing executive but I’d give the audience enough credit to assume that they’d realise that. Besides this, an excellent film on many levels that I highly recommend provided you are prepared for a slow but compelling story.

In Brief:
An excellent character study and, to some degree, social satire with a great script, fantastic performances and a great look. The driving force of the plot is handled well but the development of Woody Harrelson’s character is the centre of the film. Aside from some minor niggles a great piece of work and something different to the summer of “threequels” that has assaulted us. Highly Reccommended.

Originally posted Thursday, 16 August 2007.

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