Monday, July 30, 2007

THE WALKER - the localised and global consequences of a corrupt political establishment

THE WALKER is the latest film from celebrated writer/director Paul Schrader. As a writer, Schrader gave us the definitive picture of the disenfranchised, angry young man in TAXI DRIVER. And as a director he has given us many iconic images of men who are outside of the establishment but mingle with it and luxuriate in its superficial beauty. Until, of course, they are ensnared in the seamier side of the power structure. AMERICAN GIGOLO is perhaps the apex of this style of thriller cum character exploration.

In THE WALKER we see another exploration of character. This time, the central character is a flamboyant homosexual who precariously balances his lifestyle with his position as scion of a rapaciously Republican, Virginian family. Woody Harrelson's performance as Carter Page III is yet another career-best to rival his perfomance as Larry Flint. He struts through Washington high-society wearing an ill-fitting toupe, and speaks through a near-closed mouth with a broad Southern accent - and have they done something to his nose? His observations on Washington society are rapier-subtle and very, very funny, but he manages to maintain an almost boy-ish innocence and loyalty to his friends.

These friends are rather a different breed. They are the well-heeled wives of Washington power brokers. While their husbands hush up an Enron-style scandal implicating the Vice-President, Carter "walks" them to parties and to the opera - a convenient piece of arm candy to hire. Of the three lead actresses, Lily Tomlin is unusually, ambiguously evil as the wife of a Karl-Rove-style lobbyist. Lauren Bacall is magisterial as a rich widow. And Kristin Scott Thomas gives a rather auto-pilot performance as a philandering wife who happily lets her "friend" Carter get implicated in a murder-scandal on her behalf.

Yes, the witty script and strong performances from Harrelson, Bacall and Tomlin are the highlights of this drama. But there are other strengths. I rather liked the insidious, smooth flowing camera shots that circle and permeate political society. There is a wonderful homage to the infamous AMERICAN GIGOLO scene where Richard Gere gets dressed to go out. This time, the scene is reversed. An ageing, balding Harrelson takes off his vulgar but expensive clothes and the camera hovers lovingly over trays of cuff-links and ties. Then, he takes off his toupe!

I also rather liked the unabashed references to Abu Ghraib through the photography of Carter's boyfriend Emek (Moritz Bleibtrau). I like the idea that the venality of Washington; the unquestioning xenophobia; the sacrifice of constitutional checks and balances in the name of the national interest - all this leads to the relatively localised corruption in which Carter is implicated, but also leads to the wider loss of moral integrity seen in Iraq.

THE WALKER played Berlin 2007 and goes on release in the UK on August 10th and in the UK on December 7th.

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