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A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (director/writer: Scott Frank; screenwriter: novel by Lawrence Block; cinematographer: Mihai Malaimare Jr.; editor: Jill Savitt ; music: Carlos Rafael Rivera; cast: Liam Neeson (Matt Scudder), Dan Stevens (Kenny Kristo), David Harbour (Ray), Adam David Thompson (Albert), Boyd Holbrook (Peter Kristo), Brian Bradley (TJ), Razane Jammal (Carrie), Olafur Darri Olafsson

(Jonas Loogan), Sebastian Roche (Yuri Landau ), Mark Consuelos (Reuben Quintana), Danielle Rose Russell (Lucia); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Danny DeVito/ Michael Shamberg/Stacey Sher/Tobin Armbrust/Brian Oliver; Universal; 2014)

A slick, ugly and brutal crime thriller set in NYC, in 1999.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A slick, ugly and brutal crime thriller set in NYC, in 1999. The time period has the city inundated by drug dealers and end of the millennium worries over a possible Y2K gaffe. The action pic remains credible and exciting, with a solid thoughtful performance by the mentally tormented alcoholic ex-detective played by Liam Neeson. But it goes bad by the third act, as it loses its fun riff on Sam Spade and any other decent intentions it might have had to be a good film and sinks to exploitative rubbish.

Writer-director Scott Frank (“The Lookout”) bases it on the best-seller novel by Lawrence Block.

It opens with a prologue set in 1991, in a Washington Heights bar, where three men kill the bartender in a hold-up and the saloon’s unseen sole patron, Detective Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson), chases down the trio in the street and kills two and wounds another. But one of his stray bullets hit an innocent child in the eye and killed her.

It’s now 1999 and we learn the decorated Scudder, a reformed alcoholic, retired eight years from the force, works as a private eye. A fellow AA member, Peter Kristo (Boyd Holbrook), says his Brooklyn-based drug trafficker brother, Kenny (Dan Stevens), needs his immediate services. We learn that after paying the ransom of $400,000 for his kidnapped wife (Razane Jammal), she’s returned in pieces in body bags to the drug lord.

Scudder takes the case after at first reluctant to help a drug-dealer, but refuses to use a computer or cell phone. While reading up in the library’s archive files about other such grizzly killings in the area, in the Brooklyn Eagle, he meets an intelligent homeless black teen, TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), who talks in urban slang. The techie-wise kid becomes his helper, if you can believe. Scudder realizes there were other grizzly murders in Brooklyn that followed the same M.O. and uses his detective skills to track down the killers. They are a sadistic gay couple (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson), posing as DEA agents, who remain in the shadows for most of the film. At their coming out party, they tail a Russian drug dealer (Sebastian Roche) and snatch his 14-year-old daughter (Danielle Rose Russell). The jokey sicko kidnappers are depicted as over-the-top nutcases, sadists and haters of women. What follows are only predictable and uncomfortable set pieces of violent scenarios that come with a limited story that can’t find out what it wants to say about all the baddies. What was too much for me to give the film a pass for entertainment value, was the prolonged climactic gun battle between the tainted hero cop and the remaining villain played out to the monotonous sound of someone reading the AA’s 12 steps. Ugh!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”