It’s been a tricky few days. I rarely get ‘black dog’ in January, but February, what with the inert weather and all those smiley faces from disciplined folk who, after a month of sobriety, are joyously back off the wagon, I don’t know, a pall of gloom usually settles over my person. An all action movie is no cure for the blues, but occasionally it offers light escapism so, with this in mind, I picked up the latest offering starring none other than Liam Neeson and, new darling of the US film industry, Dan Stevens. Blurb on the jacket stated: ‘The thrills never let up…’ and ‘A blockbuster with brains.’ I was encouraged, if not positively enticed. I wasn’t even too put off by the warning of sexualised violence, after all the Beeb often warns ‘There will be scenes of a sexual nature’ in whatever drama they are promoting. What could possibly go wrong, I thought? A lot, as it happened. I can only conclude that the first film buff was asleep or got his movies mixed, the second skipped three little letters: OUT, in other words ‘without brains.’ So what little gem bored me to tears for 109 minutes? ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones.’
Films based on books, in this case Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name, can go either way. It’s often said that bad books make great films and vice-versa. There are so many exceptions to this rule, I’m not sure it holds true. I can only hope that Block’s novel is better than the movie.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Neeson delivered, as he always does, and Stevens was tremendous, but the script was execrable. It went something like this: the girlfriends/wives of drug lords are abducted, their boyfriends/husbands asked to cough up large sums of cash in exchange for the safe return of their loved ones. It’s a blind because, even before the money has been dropped, the unfortunate women are sexually violated, tortured, with bits lopped off while they are alive, chopped into little pieces and handed back. In steps retired cop and P.I. Liam Neeson to sort out the bad guys. There was a glimmer of hope in this film when it was suggested at one point that the guys doing the killing and torturing were disgruntled cops eager for payback against drug dealers. Nothing so vaguely sophisticated, however. They were just a couple of maniacs.
As you might imagine, the overall tone was unrelentingly grim. Long before the abduction of a young girl, and daughter of a Russian drug lord, I’d mentally checked out. How anyone could suggest that the story was gripping hasn’t seen any good films lately. It was slow to the point of extinction, and the violence was as gratuitous and vile as it was meaningless. And I’m no apologist for violence in films but, as in fiction, violence, and especially sexual violence, needs to be handled with care. If you don’t pay attention, if you don’t use your brains, it can blow up in the scriptwriter’s face. This had a damn great grenade attached. The film wasn’t even redeemed by the cheesy sub-plot in which a homeless fourteen year-old briefly teams up with Neeson.
I’m rarely this critical. I kept hoping for a twist. It didn’t happen and I have absolutely no idea what the point of the film was. Nihilism, perhaps? Either way, it was ridiculous.