Paul Schrader is known for his “man in a room” movies. In films like American Gigolo and Taxi Driver, he unearths how men cope with their essential natures and the bizarre expectations laid for them. This clash is perfect for the thriller genre, so Schrader’s films tow the line between that genre and art-house drama. One of his underseen films The Walker is him doing what he does best, and it is also a great DC film.
Woody Harrelson plays someone named Carter Page. The character has nothing to do with the man of the same name now embroiled in the Trump/Russia scandal, but it is a perfect coincidence. Carter is a gigolo of sorts: he provides companionship for the wives of the most powerful men of DC. Over games of bridge and trips to The Kennedy Center, he hears all the gossip and offers sly commentary that other insiders cannot. He is also gay, so he presents no threat to the women with whom he socializes (for a price). Kristin Scott Thomas plays Lynn Lockner, a Senator’s wife, who might become embroiled in scandal after her lover is found dead. Lynn implicates Carter in the cover-up, and The Walker follows him through a thorny world of intrigue.
Like The Post, The Walker is more about Washington than it is about DC. It is set in the drawing rooms, restaurants, and theaters where if you have to ask how much it costs, it is too expensive. To Schrader’s credit, he actually films in the neighborhoods where the movie takes place. Carter lives in Foggy Bottom – the part not crawling with drunk GW undergrads – and at one point, he gives a plausibly correct address to the MPD. The dialogue is also its own form of credibility: Carter and the other formidable cast, including Lily Tomin and Lauren Bacall, speak with a knowing shorthand that is both amusing and cruel.
Most people will not care if a film gets DC right (The Walker played the festival circuit, only to get a direct-to-DVD release). The city’s lifetime residents are rarely seen on film, and many folks are eager to leave the city entirely. Though the film does not require it, Schrader somehow still cares to show what makes Washington unique.