"The Walker" is too slow-paced for a thriller

Woody Harrelson, one of those actors who seem perpetually youthful, drawls his way through Paul Schrader's "The Walker" like a man who's never had a deadline. He plays Carter Page III, a Southerner relocated to Washington, D.C. A part-time real-estate agent and full-time man about town, he's devoted to a cadre of society ladies (Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Lauren Bacall) whom he joins for gossipy card games by day and squires about to chic parties by night. As a gay man, he's no threat to these women's husbands, and happily receives the women's confidences — until, in the case of his closest friend Lynn (Scott Thomas), he learns too much. He tries to help her suppress a scandal and, in the way of all friends who try to help friends in this sort of movie, becomes entangled in a web of lies and corruption.

Schrader, screenwriter of "Taxi Driver" and, more recently, writer/director of "Auto Focus" and "Affliction," here uses the structure of a thriller to tell a story about the shallowness of society and the loneliness of a man afraid of being rejected by it. But the film feels long and slow, and the subject matter familiar. We never quite get caught up in it, despite the appealing cast; a thriller directed at a snail's pace simply isn't very thrilling.

But there are pleasures to be had in "The Walker," such as Scott Thomas' precise American accent and careful way of pulling at her lips (her character mostly communicates by what she leaves unsaid); Bacall's permanently arched brow and wonderfully naughty laugh; Tomlin's sly delivery; and Harrelson's thoughtful depiction of a man who's all about presentation. He carefully adjusts his pocket square, even when no one will see it; in his painfully tidy apartment at night, he meticulously removes his hairpiece and gazes into a mirror, diminished. "I'm not naive," he tells a character, in a drawl as deliciously slow as poured honey. "I'm superficial."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Movie review 2 stars

"The Walker," with Woody Harrelson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Lauren Bacall, Willem Dafoe, Ned Beatty, Moritz Bleibtreu, Mary Beth Hurt. Written and directed by Paul Schrader. 107 minutes. Rated R for language, some violent material and nude images. Uptown.