Saturday, September 27, 2014

Who You Gonna Call?

It's been a week of movies for me. Stuck in Louisville for work and twice-annual training, I've had a number of days free and a fella can study only so much (or, in my case, almost not at all). And after removing my FaceBook page from life support (a topic on which I'll have more to say later. Or maybe not) I've been busying myself reviewing recent films.

Today, Scott Frank's adaptation of the Lawrence Block novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones. Liam Neeson stars as an aging ex cop-cum unlicensed private detective Matthew Scudder. A guy living kind of under the radar and sidling from task to task, Scudder gets roped into helping track down a couple guys who are kidnapping and brutally murdering young women. A recovering alcoholic, Scudder is approached after an AA meeting by another member whose brother is having a problem. After some hoop-jumping, Scudder is brought into the job in his usual unofficial capacity.

Scudder's character is nothing new. Part standard detective fiction, part film noir, Matthew Scudder seems a compendium of Jack Reacher and Sam Spade and Mike Hammer. And Neeson does this kind of thing very well. He's old enough that he's not to be mistaken for a 20-something tough guy, but he sports a deadly skill set and a tired patina of having seen almost everything. He's neither a guy who is likely to be caught off guard nor one to be much put out by any unpleasantness that gets dropped in his lap. He's a man of few words and he engages in only as much action as the situation requires. But he's also a bit of a luddite, and when trying to research other kidnappings on microfilm at the local library he runs across a young homeless boy who seems to have exactly the talents Scudder lacks. Thus does he find a sidekick and eventual partner in TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley).

If there's not much new in the character of Matthew Scudder, well there's not much new in Tombstone's plot either. But that doesn't keep it from being a rousing entertainment. A distinct and linear story, with good, strong characters; we find ourselves swept along stem-to-stern. We may not be finding anything new here, but if you're gonna play in an established genre, this is how it should be done.

The film is briskly shot, and has a great New York City location much like The Drop. But Tombstone feels like Episode One of a franchise, which is fine by me. I for one would be happy to watch more of Matthew Scudder.

So, a slight demerit for unoriginality. Grade: B+

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