Writer/director Paul Schrader plays a variation on his familiar theme of "sex as commodity" with The Walker, a character study flimsily disguised as a murder mystery. Schrader also wrote the rickety script, a disappointingly confusing vehicle in which too much information is dispensed through dialogue and name dropping. It's a far cry from Schrader's glory days, when he wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
As Car (short for Carter Page III), Woody Harrelson turns in an excellent performance, displaying currents of emotion underneath his character's gay Southern affectations. Car is a "walker"—a sexually non-threatening man who escorts rich wives to gala events while their politician husbands are too busy to bother. Car also plays a weekly bridge game with three Washington harpies, played by Lauren Bacall, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Lily Tomlin. But the game is beside the point—it's really just a chance for them to gossip in the sort of arch dialogue found only in movies like this.
And so it goes—until Car chauffeurs Thomas' character to a rendezvous, and she finds her lover stabbed to death. Soon, Car is embroiled in intrigue and scandal, the details of which are too wispy for the audience to care about.
There are some fine performances here, especially from Harrelson and the criminally underused Tomlin. Willem Dafoe and Ned Beatty also make brief appearances as big shots who may or may not have played a role in the murder.
And that "may or may not" vagueness is the The Walker's problem. The connections between—and the motivations of—its various characters are barely developed. (Example: Even after finishing the film, I know Beatty's character had something to do with the murder... but I couldn't tell you what, exactly.) Much like the overheard gossip its characters trade in, The Walker provides glimmers of detail, with hardly any context—and it's pretty impossible to get into a film when you feel like you're only getting half the story.