Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones


In A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES it’s been eight years after Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) was involved in fatal shootings as an off-duty detective for the New York City police, but the former cop still seems haunted by that day in 1991. Although he was honored for his service, Scudder chose to retire from the force and get sober. Now working as an unlicensed private investigator, he’s found no peace in the intervening years but has lost all fear, which comes in handy for his line of work.

His latest job offer comes via fellow Alcoholics Anonymous attendee Peter Kristo (Boyd Holbrook), whose drug-trafficking brother Kenny (Dan Stevens) requires Scudder’s particular set of skills and anonymity. Kenny’s wife was abducted the day before. Her captors demanded a million dollars, a price determined by what she would be worth if her weight translated to the same value of Kenny’s drugs. Kenny tells them that $400-thousand is the best he can do and pays up, but he gets her back in pieces in neatly bundled packages as though she were product. As Scudder looks into the case, he discovers a pattern that indicates some men are killing women with ties to the drug world and won’t be stopping any time soon.

The new millennium looms like storm clouds on the horizon in A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES. A newspaper headline warns of increased gun sales in anticipation of societal breakdown when Y2K arrives. Scudder rejects learning new technology. Instead he sticks to pay phones and microfilm as though he expects the world will be abandoning mobile communications and computers just a few short months from now. The film’s brown and gray visual palette casts a funereal air over the city as Scudder dutifully searches for the perpetrators in these heinous crimes. The gloomy lighting suits a character who does not see himself as brave or righteous but rather someone burdened with atoning each day for his own shortcomings.

Neeson has enjoyed renewed success playing unsparing tough guys. Unlike the limbs-snapping enforcers that have become his stock in trade, Scudder soldiers on as a world-weary detective who will plant a knife in someone’s neck if necessary but would rather not if all things are equal. Neeson wears Scudder’s guilt and transgressions as a hair shirt. He brings determination and resigned joylessness to the hard-boiled character adapted from Lawrence Block’s novels. The grim investigation threatens to become more complicated than necessary for a film in which reasons for the killing are largely irrelevant, but Scudder remains a compelling central figure trying to brighten the world a little even if he’s convinced his life remains in the shadows.

Whether accounting for films or television, popular culture has no shortage of entertainment that hinges on villains torturing and murdering women. A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES mostly avoids going into graphic detail and exploiting the horrible crimes exacted on women yet in doing so brings the heinousness of such actions into clearer view. The opening credits sequence

Grade: B

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