A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES Movie Review
This is a movie I’ve been looking forward to since it was going to be directed by Joe Carnahan and star Harrison Ford. A Walk Among The Tombstones is a bleak and angry film. One that I expect will be making people uncomfortable for a long while. The Scudder series have always been a strange batch of novels and Walk respects their idiosyncrasy while pushing the material even further.
Scudder is an ex cop, current unlicensed Private Eye, who is recruited to find the kidnappers of a drug dealer’s wife. The drug dealer paid the ransom, the kidnappers killed and literally butchered the wife anyway. Now the drug dealer wants revenge and Scudder must facilitate an execution.
A Walk Among The Tombstone is a film about the mistreatment and victimization of women, objectification taken to its logical end, where what’s left of the object in question can fit into a few modestly sized plastic bags. The picture it paints of society is one where women have been forced completely to the margins; the one woman with any significant dialogue in the film pointedly delivers it out of focus. Some have called the film itself misogynistic and there’s no doubt that A Walk Among The Tombstones is at times a hard film to watch (with at least one scene making me physically ill) but to my mind A Walk Among The Tombstones is simply making an ugly thing look ugly. From the opening frames which segue from dreamy soft core into a torture scene so gradually that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint where it happens, A Walk Among The Tombstones is a film that demands you to watch carefully.
At the center of the film is Liam Neeson, whose bearlike paternal presence softens some of Scudder’s nihilism but otherwise makes for a fine conduit for the character. Scott Frank creates a strong sense of atmosphere, (if not quite as strong as his debut feature The Lookout, though given this movies grey urban color palate it’s hard to see how it could). If nothing else this film makes as strong an argument for location shooting as I’ve seen in recent years. Frank seems to have picked up some pointers from his buddy Steven Soderbergh on the finer points of elliptical editing. This proves useful for depicting Scudder’ deductive shorthand and giving sequences a dreamy yet threatening edge. The only other name in the cast aside from Neeson is Dan Stevens, who does a fine job with the part of a drug dealer with just enough embers of conscious left to feel real shitty about the whole situation. Crucially the villains in the film are played by unknowns; any hint of dark glamour from them would spoil the film entirely. Instead they are dough faced abscesses of men (whose cadences have the detached air of Kevin Spacey channeling Michael Shannon). And though they are obviously the faces off the extreme, the damning thing about A Walk Among The Tombstones is how it suggests that society basically facilitates their operation.
A Walk Among The Tombstones isn’t perfect, there’s a DEA subplot that weighs the film down and seems to have only been included to give Liam Neeson a chance to hit someone for the benefit of the trailer. But it is a worthy adaptation of a worthy book, shot with seventies fearlessness and New York grit, something that author Lawrence Block has deserved for some time now. It’s a harsh ugly world out there, and we usually make it harsher.