Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson) is what is known in Washington circles as a "walker", that is he accompanies society ladies on their social dates, the sort of ladies who are the wives of the powerful men in government - and not necessarily in government, it has to be said. He also enjoys keeping a regular time each week for canasta with some of those wives where they can exchange stories, but so far he has felt immune from such tale-tellers, in spite of being gay when his influential political family could not tolerate such a thing in their circle. But that is not what spells his downfall...
The Walker was writer and director Paul Schrader's return to the territory he had mined with works like American Gigolo and Light Sleeper - just watch out for the Robert Bresson visual reference they shared, here placed two thirds of the way through rather than at the end. If this came across as somewhat old hat for those who had already seen those previous efforts, as apparently, if you were being unkind, Schrader had run out of ideas and was forced to go over old ground then it was not as if he was the only moviemaker to return to the same themes over the course of his career - it was simply that he was making no secret of the fact.
Harrelson reportedly hated his performance here, and it's true this saw the star at his most mannered, but such is the near-alien quality to his interpretation in these surroundings that he commanded attention; whether that was down to acting which was misjudged or was ideal for the role was very much up for debate. There was always the danger that he would lapse into parody, but in truth there was such control in the character, a man who needs to have everything just so and manages to design his surroundings accordingly, that Harrelson's obvious concentration on getting it right, whatever he thought, meant he pulled off what could have been rather tricky.
Helping was a cast of rather more mature stars than would be the norm for a Hollywood movie: the youngest the main players got was Moritz Bleibtreu's Emek, Carter's lover who begins his own investigation when his sort-of boyfriend looks to be framed for a murder he did not commit. What happens is Carter is escorting senator's wife Lynn Lockner (Kristin Scott Thomas) to meet her lover at his home, but soon after she enters the house she rushes out in a panic and tells him that the lover has been murdered. She needs an alibi, and Carter out of some sense of duty offers her one, which leads to him being a suspect when he claims to have found the body and called the police.
Soon he discovers that it's all very well chatting and gossiping to pass the time with his friends, but when he is at the centre of the gossip it's not quite so much fun. This is where he really finds out who his friends are, as it becomes clear he was merely entertainment to those ladies, and they will keep him at arm's length when the stakes are too high for them to engage with. That includes Lynn, who is only too pleased to allow Carter to take the fall, and before you know it what has been a novelistic, almost twee look at the moneyed Washington community turns sinister in a cynical (but still sympathetic to its lead) examination of the lengths those in power will go towards keeping that influence. Unashamedly complex to a point, Schrader's film may have been a variation on a theme he was perhaps too fond of, but The Walker was a valid enough work in its own right to justify returning to this well, with its sheen of sophistication masking corruption and lies. Music by Anne Dudley.