By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated December 10, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson) in Paul Schrader’s The Walker is who Julian Kaye in Schrader’s American Gigolo might have become, had Julian not been blessed with Richard Gere’s bone structure — and had Julian come out of the closet many movie fans guessed he had been camping out in for years. A chatty charmer in middle age, Page lightens the social burdens of married and widowed power-wielding Washington, D.C., ladies with his well-bred Southern manners, his gossip, and, he knows deep in his disgusted soul, his marginality. (Lucky jester — his society dames are played by Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, and Kristin Scott Thomas.) It’s only when he is implicated in a criminal investigation — the reward for loyalty to his favorite swan and senator’s wife (Scott Thomas) while she canoodled with a lobbyist — that Page begins to understand he’s been confusing the stink in his life with cologne.

Schrader has been proselytizing about the lonely male struggle for salvation for so long that the repetition of his stern themes makes the filmmaker’s work interesting even when a particular parable stumbles — as The Walker does. The brittle, very ”written” catty quips meant to characterize Washington hypocrisy sound perfunctory; the story of an aging, self-hating homosexual who goes home alone to his lacquered town house feels ancient as well as uncomfortable for the writer-director. (Harrelson seems both game and ill at ease.) But moral stink? Schrader has a nose for what’s in the air. C+