Directed by: Scott Frank
A few months ago I got rather excited about the trailer for ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ starring everyone’s favourite world weary middle aged arse kicker Liam Neeson. Adapted from one of the many of Lawrence Block’s novels about a New York based private detective named Matthew Scudder, ‘A Walk Amongst The Tombstones’ is a gripping movie that manages to overcome and niftily sidestep its flaws.
There was something about ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ which reminded me of Paul Auster’s ‘City of Glass’. It’s the way Scudder works in an old school detective fashion, sticking to what has always worked in order to track down the bad guys whilst simultaneously battling his own demons and dealing with this almost supernatural form of evil. There are moments of the film when Scudder appears lost, until a divine force guides him to the next piece in the jigsaw.
The film begins with a flashback, Neeson is taking a break in a café stoke bar. In an attempt to make him look younger, the make-up department have given him a goatee and a shaggy mane. He sits at the bar reading a paper, knocking back a cup of black coffee and two shots of whiskey – The breakfast of champions. This is important because it tells us that Matthew Scudder had an alcohol problem in those days, and he frequently drank on the job. A couple of crooks storm into the bar; they shoot the bartender with a shotgun and run out in the street. Scudder gives chase and successfully shoots the crooks. But something is amiss, and to avoid spoilers, what really happened on that fateful day is revealed later.
Whatever happened caused Scudder to leave the Police force. Fast forward to 1999, Scudder is a Private Detective; he takes on whatever work he can. When he’s not working he diligently attends alcoholics anonymous meetings. Scudder is contacted by the junkie brother of a former drug dealer. The drug dealer’s wife had been kidnapped and then murdered in a brutal fashion. The drug dealer wants to catch the men who killed his wife. At first Scudder is reluctant to get involved in what seems to be a turf war between rival dealers, but when more facts emerge Scudder is drawn in.
I don’t know if personal tragedy has influenced Neeson’s decision to play lonely men who wonder about their place on earth, but he does it well. He paces the grey streets, and his face fits, among the dark shadows and overcast skies. The supporting cast bring their own forms of bleakness – Boyd Holbrook’s unreliable dishevelled junkie, Olafur Darri Olafsson as the lonely perverted cemetery worker and David Harbour who is terrifying as Ray, the sadistic serial killer.
In adapting the novel the makers of this film decide to leave out a few key characters. The choice is deliberate, making Scudder a loner. But Scudder seeks help from a homeless teen called TJ, who he bumps into at the library. TJ’s ability to use modern technology helps Scudder in his hunt for the killers. TJ then gets in the way, literally, to Scudder’s annoyance, but for me TJ’s introduction hampers the flow of the film, causing Scudder to become this surrogate Father figure.
There’s always a danger that when you adapt from a novel you end up missing key parts of the story. The frantic finale of the film suggests that either the director or studio was afraid of sticking with what happens in ending of the novel, it means that we get a clusterfuck of death and gore which loses impact through poor execution.