Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

 A Walk Among the Tombstones

Liam Neeson has done so many revenge pictures ala Nicolas Cage that he is easy to spoof. He has such an easily recognizable expression: the tired eyes as if filled with cake batter, the knitted brows, the pale granite face that looks like a headstone. His many characters possess an identical body, shambling with jagged lament.

In "A Walk Among the Tombstones" from a novel by Lawrence Block and directed by Scott Frank (The Lookout) there are some of those elements, in force, but the apprehension is so tightly wound with such shifty and rancid characters, that it all manages to work.

Neeson plays Detective Matthew Scudder, a man who is battling demons, mainly alcohol. He is haunted by the moment when he went into a bar during a  brutal shooting and stopped the assailant only to have the bullet ricochet and kill a young girl.

Scudder promptly joined AA.

Now, as a semi-retired investigator, he is a shadowy man who works for gifts, but only, it seems, if he likes you.

An young man Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) contacts the lugubrious investigator saying two men killed his wife after they received ransom money. Scudder is reluctant to help, since it becomes evident that Kristo is a drug dealer but given the sadistic nature of the crime, Scudder agrees to find out all he can.

The apprehension is in the reality that every character is as shady as the next, with some anxious cinematography that recalls "Serpico" and the work of William Friedkin in its harsh lighting along dark streets. There is a gloomy and nonchalant Jonas: a big jelly of a man (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) who is alternately criminal and self deprecating.

But above all, the film has quite possibly two of the most sinister characters that have ever been seen since "The Silence of the Lambs." The scariest moment may be one that doesn't show anything Halloween-worthy at all, merely a shot of these two men at the breakfast table in their underwear reading the morning paper.

In the role of TJ, singer Brian   "Astro" Bradley (The X Factor) is excellent as a young homeless kid who worships Scudder. TJ's idolatry mimics a bit of Joey Starrett in "Shane".

Scudder's identification with AA is a nice touch as well with the "twelve steps" becoming a personal metaphor for the detective in his attempt to make things right.

And there is mystery as to why Scudder wants to help in the first place.

As an anti-hero as gray as the dirt path he walks through, Scudder takes on loads of guilt and pain as a fatalistic matter of course. His speech to TJ about guns and self esteem is as somber and sincere as it gets, unusual for a conventional good guy/ bad guy yarn. The lines become blurred by sadness.

" A Walk Among the Tombstones" never stoops to be self-conscious. It is a gritty hide and seek with a gun and does so much with so little. A simple trip down the stairs becomes an invitation to an almost paranormal sense of evil.

But, best of all, the dry-bone delivery of Liam Neeson, which is usually easy fodder for a joke, has never been more appealing.

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