Paul Schrader’s new film as writer/director clearly shows him exorcising the demons of his last venture, Exorcist: Dominion, by revisiting similar territory to his earlier film American Gigolo. Schrader delivers a thriller that delves into the darker side of humanity where no-one is what they appear and friendship is a political game. An intriguing premise, well developed characters and the all-star cast make The Walker the perfect antidote to the brainless blockbusters of the summer season.
Woody Harrelson plays Carter Paige III, the Walker of the title; which we learn through the course of the film is the nickname given to escorts of rich women. Harrelson delivers a powerful performance and at times it appears as if he is channelling Marlon Brando from beyond the grave. Harrelson is aided in his performance by a trio of legendary leading ladies: Lauren Bacall, Kristen Scott Thomas and Lily Tomlin, who all deliver their standard top class performances and work strictly to type. Rounding out the cast are other notable faces like Ned Beatty and Schrader stalwart Willem Dafoe, in what amounts to a cameo performance.
Harrelson’s character is thrown into a world of corruption, political manoeuvring and blackmail when he decides to help his rich friend Lynn, played by Scott Thomas, following the brutal murder of her secret lover. Soon he is framed for the murder and the only person that can help him is his non-politically affiliated paparazzi boyfriend.
The major selling point of The Walker is Woody Harrelson’s performance. When first we meet him he is dressed to perfection, with a full head of hair. As we follow him home to his perfect apartment, his façade is removed as he strips away the character he pretends to be, and with the removal of his toupee and his prized clothing we see who he really is: a lonely bald man who is only defined by the company he keeps, the stories that he tells and the clothes that he wears. As the story progresses we see Harrelson go from a man who enjoys the glamour of rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful, to a desperate murder suspect who must clear his name. It is this desperation and fearfulness that could well place Harrelson in the running for an Oscar come the New Year.
The Walker is a throw back to Schrader’s heyday of the 1970s with its politically charged plot line and slow pace. It is however the last third or so of the film that lets it down. The film turns to regular thriller territory, betraying the set up that has gone before it. With its clues and revelations, it’s as if we are now watching a completely different film, though not necessarily a bad one. There’s much to recommend in The Walker, from the strong performances, to Schrader’s slow and steady direction. At this time of year it’s always good to see a film that is for a more mature audience, for that there is much to praise. However it’s the film’s clichéd final reel that will keep it from classic status.