Movie review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones - Cover of the Hard Case Crime movie tie-in edition

Cover of the Hard Case Crime movie tie-in edition

A Walk Among the Tombstones, as many of you no doubt already know, is based on the novel by Lawrence Block, the tenth in his series about alcoholic/recovering alcoholic (depending on what book) private investigator Matthew Scudder. Scudder is unlicensed, occasionally doing “favors” for “friends” who sometimes give him “gifts” out of gratitude for his favors.

AWATT  launches when Peter (Boyd Holbrook), who knows of Scudder (Liam Neeson) from Alcoholics Anonymous, asks him to come talk with his brother, Kenny.

Kenny’s wife Carrie has been kidnapped, then murdered despite him paying ransom. Despite this harrowing tale, Scudder at first refuses to help, in part because Kenny is a narcotics trafficker. Needless to say, Scudder does get involved, and away we go.

If you’ve read any of the Scudder novels, you know what a Scudder novel feels like–the atmosphere, the darkness, the general ugliness of the universe he inhabits. Director Scott Frank, shooting his own script, captures that ably. AWATT is a Matthew Scudder movie, not just a movie based on a Matthew Scudder novel (as, reportedly, Eight Million Ways to Die is). I have not yet read the novel (I’m reading them in order and not there yet), so I can’t say how close the script hews to the source material plot-wise, but it hews very closely to the spirit of the series*. That in itself, as exasperated Parker fans know, is quite an achievement.

The always excellent Neeson is perfectly cast as Matthew Scudder, and the supporting actors also do a fine job. A friendship between an older white man and a black youth has a high risk of corn (“You’re the man now, dog!“), but there isn’t a kernel of it in Scudder’s relationship with T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley).

Scott Frank’s script and direction are similarly top-notch, perfectly paced for the brooding thriller this is. The man knows how to do crime right, which may mean we missed out when the TV pilot he wrote and directed based on Charles Willeford’s Hoke Mosely for FX did not get picked up. (Can we please see it, at least?)

Unfortunately, A Walk Among the Tombstones underperformed at the box office, possibly because it was wrongly perceived as Neeson doing Taken again without actually calling it Taken, meaning a sequel is unlikely. It also means it won’t be in theaters for much longer, so get out there and see it while you still can. And if you miss it, put it at the top of your TBW pile when it comes to video and streaming. It’s a film worthy of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder novels, and that’s high praise indeed.


*There is one important change (and if you haven’t read the series or seen the movie, I promise this isn’t a spoiler). Scudder’s origin story is condensed and altered due to filming book ten of the series. In the novels, Scudder’s accidental killing of a seven-year-old girl leads to his descent into alcoholism, or at minimum takes him much deeper into it. Scudder does not give up booze until several entries into the series. In the movie, it is the child’s death that inspires him to kick.