Directed and Written For The Screen by Scott Frank
Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Tobin Armbrust and Brian Oliver
Based on the novel “A Walk Among The Tombstones” by Lawrence Block
I was about an hour into A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES when it hit me that I was watching a period piece. And it hit me with real surprise because the movie takes place the 1990’s before The Internet, home PC’s and cell phones really became indispensable and integral components of our daily lives. And the thing is this: I remember the 1990’s. I was there. I lived through the 1990’s and I can’t rightly call a movie a period piece if I actually lived during that period, can I?
But yes, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is indeed a period piece because it takes place in the 20th Century and we are now in the 21st. But it’s not just the lack of modern technology that makes this movie a period piece. One of the characters, a street urchin named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) upon finding out that Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is a private detective demonstrates that he’s familiar with Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. And Matthew Scudder is very much a literary grandson of those two classic P.I.’s
Matthew Scudder, once a NYPD cop, left the force due to an accidental shooting he was involved in while drunk. He’s now sober and maintaining his sobriety while working as an unlicensed private detective. As he puts it to his prospective client, drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) “I do favors for people. And in return they give me gifts.” The favor Kenny Kristo wants Scudder to do for him is to find his wife who has been kidnapped. In return Kenny will give Scudder the gift of $20,000.
Scudder’s investigations put him on the trail of two truly monstrous psychopaths who have hit on a novel idea: they kidnap the wives and daughters of drug dealers knowing full well that the dealers can’t go to the police or FBI for help since that would expose what they do to the authorities. But as Scudder digs deeper into the case he discovers that this pair are more interested in killing their victims than the million dollar ransoms they demand.
I never realize how much I miss this kind of story until I see it on screen. All the fun has gone out of being a private eye as now all they have to do is know how to work a computer. Matthew Scudder does it the old fashioned way. He does legwork. He goes to the library and uses a microfiche (Hah! Go ahead and Google that!) He asks questions and interacts face to face with people. And instead of taking DNA samples he uses his brain coupled with his years of experience and the instincts he’s developed to find the kidnappers. It’s quite the performance from Liam Neeson. I know people who saw the trailers for this and dismissed it as another variation of “Taken.” Trust me, in tone, in story and most importantly, in character this is nothing like Neeson’s “Taken” movies. I liked how the Matthew Scudder character doesn’t angst over his alcoholism. It’s part of his personality, yes, but it doesn’t define him. It was responsible for a tragic mistake in his past but he’s stepped up to do something about it so that it doesn’t happen again.
I really enjoyed the supporting cast in this one. Mainly because most of the faces were not familiar to me and so I wasn’t watching the actors playing these roles. I was watching the characters. Acting honors in this movie go to Boyd Holbrook as the drug addicted brother of the drug trafficker. He and Scudder bond over their mutual addictive problems and he turns out to be more pivotal to the plot than you would think at first. Brian “Astro” Bradley is also very good as TJ who bonds with Scudder due to his interest in detective fiction and wanting to be a detective himself.
And living in Brooklyn I naturally loved that the movie was filmed here. Some of those same streets that Scudder walks on I’ve either walked on myself or driven down. My tax guy used to have an office right across the street from the graveyard that figures prominently in a suspenseful and tense hostage/money exchange. Unlike a TV show like “The Strain” which goes out of its way to insist that it’s taking place in Brooklyn but never shows me a recognizable street or landmark, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is very clear that it’s a New York movie and lets you know it with every shot.
So should you see A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES? Absolutely. It’s way better than “8 Million Ways To Die” the 1986 attempt to bring Matthew Scudder to cinematic life. Jeff Bridges did his best in the role but was sabotaged by the direction of Hal Ashby. Brilliant as he is, Ashby was the last director in the world who should have been directing a hard boiled P.I. thriller. And Scudder is such a New York character (New York City itself can be said to be a supporting character in the Scudder novels) that moving him to Los Angeles just seemed wrong.
But A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES never goes wrong from start to finish. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing throwback of a movie, one full of rock solid performances and a story to match. Don’t wait to see this one on DVD or Netflix. Go check it out while it’s still in the theater. Enjoy.