“I know you’re a genetic f***-up,” Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson)
In the aftermath of the excellent TRUE DETECTIVE, this neo-noir falls disappointingly short. There is extreme sadism without a wider analysis, such as existential crisis, or a look to society's failings, or dissection of individual psychology. A double let-down is that director Scott Frank's debut THE LOOKOUT was so promising, and he crafted the screenplays to MINORITY REPORT and OUT OF SIGHT. There was potential in A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES for something interesting: A private eye has drug dealer clients tackling a mystery that might involve the authorities. Unfortunately, that set-up was not explored at all.
New York 1991, which might have been the 70s for the hackneyed bleached cinematography, and cop Matt Scudder is involved in a daytime shoot-out. Ear-piercing gunshots give the melee a crunch. Of course Liam Neeson places the trio of armed thieves in the equivalent number of body bags; he is after all almost sleepwalking through modern Dirty Harry-esque personas at the moment. Fortunately he makes for a charismatic lead.
Jump to 1999, and Scudder’s mullet and stuck-on goatee has disappeared, and there’s comical mention of “Y2K worries” in a newspaper. Lazy time stamp alert! Minor period setting decision-making is obfuscated – lack of mobile phone G.P.S. tracking perhaps? Now an unlicensed gumshoe, references are overtly made to Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe – you better be bringing you’re A game if you’re quoting those titans of the genre.
Post shooting, Scudder is on a sobriety kick, so much so that the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps are read out and intercut with the lacklustre climax. Introduced to a potential client, Scudder realises quickly that the new paymaster is a small-time drug dealer (who prefers the title “trafficker”). Dan Stevens’ Kenny Kristo (if you’ve seen James Franco as Danny “Crystal” Cleer in THE GREEN HORNET, you’ll know how unintentionally funny that is) recounts a grim tale of spousal kidnap to Scudder. Potential for morally murky employment had massive opportunities for atmospheric shifting sands; instead, the narcotics distributors are as vulnerably helpless as your typical movie family member. What a waste.
Turns out, there appears to be a particularly brutal pair of kidnap-murderers, reneging on returning unharmed the victims even after the money is paid. Barbarity runs along the mainstream cop show variety: Pain sans brains – is particularly upsetting. Is there any point to it beyond audience shock? (FUNNY GAMES this is not.) Brief mention of potential involvement of the Drug Enforcement Agency leaves a badly required conspiracy to the wind. Pieces fall together into a conventional pattern. A DICK TRACY-style homeless kid sidekick is bizarrely thrown into the admixture.
Watch instead I SAW THE DEVIL or LADY VENGEANCE.
A walk among the clichés.