Dark Detective Noir Sees Neeson In His Element. Lose The Annoying Sidekick.
While writer/director Scott Frank’s adaptation of Lawrence Block’s book from the best-selling series featuring private eye Matthew Scudder is clearly set in the 90s, it wears it’s hard boiled 40s noir roots on its sleeves.
A Walk Among The Tombstones, the tenth Scudder book, is a bleak tale from the underside of life that examines the consequences, if not the source, of crime. Liam Neeson is in fine form as the careworn, alcoholic Scudder, with the film opening on a heart-racing scene that see the then cop mercilessly stalk down and execute a bunch of crooks who gunned down the owner of the bar in which he was quietly drinking. Following an unfortunate accident, we skip nine years forward as the world prepares in paranoid obsession for the impending millennium and possible Y2K digital oblivion.
Now working as an unlicensed private dick in the vein of Chandler’s Marlowe, the reformed tee totaller is approached by Peter (Boyd Holbrook), a fellow AA attendee and a drug addict who convinces Scudder to take up a job for his wealthy brother Kenny (Dan Stevens, unrecognisable from Downton Abbey).
It turns out that Kenny is a well-connected drug dealer, something that Scudder does not approve of, and he immediately rejects the case. That is until he hears the details of what a pair of sick serial killers did to Kenny’s wife.
Oddly, from this moment on, Kenny and Peter are portrayed as the good guys, with a truly bizarre lack of focus on their dubious dealings, considering it’s made reasonably clear that the kidnappers who grab and then mutilate Kenny’s partner, unseen bar a chillingly ambiguous opening credits scene, are at least partly doing so as punishment for their misdemeanours.
The killers are portrayed with an almost inhuman, chilling menace by David Harbour and Adam David Thompson, and alongside the crumpled stoicism of Neeson, they’re what really sell this particularly dark slice of New York life. The final showdown is quite spectacularly tense.
Less effective is an entirely unnecessary and somewhat cringe worthy segue involving homeless kid sidekick TJ, portrayed by Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, and the complete lack of female characters on show here, other than as individual bite-sized pieces wrapped in plastic (it’s all a bit Women in Refrigerators). There’s also a bit of prolonged sag around the midsection that could use a trim.
Frank wrote the screenplay for Out of Sight, and he’s definitely got a knack for lurking in atmospheric shadows, ably assisted by cinematographer Mihai Malaimare, Jr, with a cemetery shoot out quite fantastic. With any luck, we’ll be seeing a few more of Block’s expansive series with Neeson in tow and just a little more judicial editing. And maybe a living woman or two.
Stephen A Russell