The Big Movie: The Walker (R)
In his script for 'Taxi Driver,' writer Paul Schrader had twisted hero Travis Bickle refer to himself at one point as 'God's lonely man.'
The lonely man has remained a favorite subject of Schrader the writer-director ever since, and his latest film, 'The Walker,' seems to complete a kind of trilogy with 1992's 'Light Sleeper' and 1980's 'American Gigolo.'
In each of these films a man of dubious employment, comfortably fixed but spiritually adrift, finds himself in a situation where a moral choice offers a sort of redemption.
In this case the man, Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson), is a 'walker,' an escort for women of a certain age and standing in Washington, D.C., whose powerful husbands are too busy or uninterested to attend social affairs.
'Car,' as he is nicknamed, is no worry to husbands because he is gay, and he enjoys some minor status of his own because his father was a senator who stood tall during the Watergate case.
He enjoys a relaxed, catty intimacy with three women in particular (neatly played by Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily Tomlin and Lauren Bacall), and the quartet gathers weekly for a canasta session in which local dirt is enthusiastically dished - though the Washington dirt requires something of more dump truck proportions.
Things change when the dirt starts to rub off. Lynn Lockner (Scott Thomas), wandering wife of crusading Sen. Larry Lockner (Willem Dafoe of 'Light Sleeper'), finds her lobbyist lover murdered, and Car, who transports Lynn to her trysts, engineers a cover-up that soon puts him atop the suspect list.
Car insists, in his caramelized drawl (he's the dead end of a long line of esteemed Virginians), 'I'm not naive, I'm superficial.'
But his sense of irony is in for an upgrade when his sense of loyalty actually makes him a pariah in a town where duplicity rules.
The curdled moral climate is reflected in gleaming visuals and overripe décor that suggest the pig behind the truffles. It's a darker glaze on the appearances'-sake polish of 'Gigolo,' down to an ironic reversal of that film's ritualistic preparations that baldly acknowledges Car's midlife frailties.
It's familiar turf for Schrader but not for Harrelson, who proves surprisingly up to the task. There's always something just ever-so-slightly off about Car, a quality to which Harrelson's peculiarly built-for-smarm features play neatly, while what might be the actor's unease with the role actually suits the sense of a man not comfortable in his skin.
He manages to give unexpected dimension to this model of self-declared superficiality as Schrader's late-model Car proves a pleasingly unorthodox hero for a light, offbeat thriller.
- Pat Holmes
Living Room, Clinton Street Theater