Walking Washington women


Chivalry is not dead. It has moved to Washington and the medieval knight errant has become a walker, someone who is a chaperone for Washington DC’s political wives. But walking is not all such a person has to do. He has to be witty. He has to be gossipy and he has to be straight out of a Dominic Dunne book. His world survives on gossip. And crashes when he is occasionally alone at night and has to dispense with his hair piece and is alone and without the chatter of his female companions.

Says Roger Ebert, “The Walker is the third of Paul Schrader’s ‘man in a room’ films, after American Gigolo (1980) and Light Sleeper (1992), which starred Dafoe as an upscale drug dealer who tries to get one of his clients off drugs. All three movies involve employment by wealthy older women.”

Adds Kathleen C Fennessy, “If his third entry lacks the cheap thrills of its predecessors — the airbrushed glamour of the former and noir atmospherics of the latter — it’s still a compelling character study. Cast against type, but rising above it, Woody Harrelson plays openly gay Carter Page III. Like Richard Gere’s Armani-clad escort, Carter is always dressed to the nines — and ready with a cutting quip. Instead of servicing female clients, the Southern senator’s son serves as a ‘walker’, inspired by Nancy Reagan associate Jerry Zipkin. Carter’s coterie includes Lynn (Kristin Scott Thomas), Natalie (Lauren Bacall), and Abigail (Lily Tomlin). When Lynn’s lobbyist lover turns up dead, Carter’s carefully constructed world comes crashing down. Out of loyalty, he reports the murder (though Lynn found the body), but because Carter also has ties to the victim, the authorities make him their prime suspect. With the help of sometime lover Emek (Run Lola Run’s Moritz Bleibtreu), he sets out to restore his reputation. Though the literate dialogue is up to Schrader’s high standards, the director slackens the pace just when he should be ratcheting up the tension. Still, few filmmakers know how to make the truism ‘To thine own self be true’ seem less trite. Unfortunately for Carter, he has to learn that lesson the hard way.”

Writes Leslie Felperin, “Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale among others with Carter held weekly canasta games at the height of his popularity where he and select femme friends would swap gossip.

“Action opens at just such a canasta game in a private DC hotel room where Carter entertains his inner circle. As opening shot dialogue suggests convincingly that although these ladies may spend most of their time lunching, their husbands didn’t marry them for their looks alone. They’re the politically savvy handmaidens of the elite who help stage-manage their husbands’ careers, and Carter is their court jester.

“He’s closest to Lynn, whom he even once made a play for way back before coming out of the closet. They’re such old friends now that he acts as lookout and alibi for her when she pays weekly visits to her lover, lobbyist Robbie Kononsberg (Steven Hartley).

But one day, she comes back from Robbie’s condo and tells Carter she found her lover stabbed to death. In order to protect Lynn and her senator husband Larry (Willem Dafoe) from impertinent questions, Carter offers to report the crime himself to the police. And the shutters come down on Carter.”

Concludes Philip Kemp, “The opening scene, with Page and the three grande dames relishing their bitchery, promises all the heartless repartee of a Restoration comedy. And we get it along with Carter’s wounds and our own discomfort.”