Four stars. Rated R, for strong violence, disturbing images, profanity and fleeting nudity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.19.14
Veteran novelist Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder hasn’t been seen on the big screen since all the way back in 1986, when Jeff Bridges played the character in director Hal Ashby’s lamentably sloppy adaptation of the series’ fifth book, 8 Million Ways to Die.
|Having persuaded TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley, right) to accept the offer of a hot meal,|
Scudder (Liam Neeson) is increasingly amused by the kid's determination to somehow
help out with the developing investigation.
Director/scripter Scott Frank has done a far better job, with A Walk Among the Tombstones (tenth novel out of 17, for those keeping track). Frank economically blends Scutter’s essential “origin story” with this book’s core plotline, and the result is a brooding, thoughtful detective thriller firmly set in the modern noir genre.
Frank certainly knows the territory. I praised his scripting chops just last week, noting his involvement with some of the genre’s best modern authors: James Lee Burke (Heaven’s Prisoners), Elmore Leonard (Out of Sight, Get Shorty and even TV’s woefully under-appreciated Karen Sisco) and now Block.
Frank’s scripting chops are measured, intelligent and — most important — faithful to the tone and atmosphere of whichever author he sources. The result always has been a compelling, tightly wound thriller, and his handling of A Walk Among the Tombstones is no exception.
Bridges looked much too young and exuberant as Scudder, back in the day; this film’s Liam Neeson is a far superior choice. He radiates just the right amount of world-weary melancholy, Scudder being a classic flawed and tragic figure: a man never able to forgive himself for past sins, yet forever struggling to do just that.
He’s also a rather unusual knight errant: an alcoholic ex-cop gone private, but not quite. Scudder can’t be bothered with a license, and he doesn’t advertise his services; as he explains, Neeson’s wry smile wrapped around the words, he “does favors for friends.”
His concept of “friendship” is both broader and looser than most, and this particular case begins with a request from Peter Kristo (Boyd Holbrook), a semi-regular in Scudder’s Alcoholics Anonymous group. The potential “client” actually is Peter’s brother Kenny (Dan Stevens), whose wife was just kidnapped and brutally murdered ... after the ransom was paid.