“A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES” My rating: B (Opens wide on Sept. 19)
113 minutes | MPAA rating: R
Hollywood hasn’t been kind to modern mystery writers. Giants of the genre like James Lee Burke, Sara Paretsky and Tony Hillerman have seen big-screen adaptations of their work crash and burn (although Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police series did finally find a home on PBS).
A similar fate befell Lawrence Block’s great detective character Matt Scudder. In 1985 the Scudder tale “8 Million Ways to Die” hit the screen with Jeff Bridges as Scudder and the frequently great Hal Ashby behind the camera. It wasn’t very good.
But now Scott Frank — mostly known as the screenwriter for films like “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” “Minority Report” and, weirdly, “Marley & Me” — has written and directed a fine version of Block’s “A Walk Among the Tombstones.”
Frank seems to have absorbed not just the one novel but the whole of the Scudder canon, and has given us a film that could be either a solid stand-alone or the first step in a new franchise.Ticket sales will tell the tale.
In the meantime we have a taut, dark, surprisingly substantial thriller that is both a dandy detective procedural and a first-rate character study.
Neesom’s Scudder is an alcoholic former NYC police detective who retired from the force after accidentally killing a little girl in a shootout. He hit AA and went into business as an unlicensed private eye, meaning, he says, that “I do favors for people. They give me gifts.”
As “A Walk…” begins Scudder is called to a meeting with Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens, late of “Downton Abbey”) a drug dealer who reports that his wife was kidnapped and, after Kenny paid $400,000 in ransom, killed by her abductors and returned to her husband in little pieces. Kenny can hardly go to the cops. He wants Scudder to find the fiends and deliver them for punishment.