- May 9, 2003
A Walk Among The Tombstones quietly tiptoes onto Blu-ray in an edition that presents this dark thriller in solid high definition picture and sound. The movie is an unsettling adaptation of Lawrence Block’s 1992 novel of the same name, centering on alcoholic former NYPD cop Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) and a particularly horrific kidnapping case. Reset to 1999 by writer/director Scott Frank, the movie is handsomely produced and features a surprisingly vulnerable lead performance by Neeson. But the tone of the story, and the gruesome details that come up along the way are so distasteful as to make the movie completely unpalatable long before the inevitable climactic bloodbath. The Blu-ray includes two short but interesting featurettes about the movie and the Matthew Scudder character. Fans of the book series may wish to rent this. Complete newcomers to this material are likely to find it too much to stomach.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English DVS 2.0, Spanish 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 54 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 01/13/2014
The Production Rating: 2.5/5
Angel: “You think I’m a fool? That’s rude, man. You’re being disrespectful and rude.”
Scudder: “Rude? Come on, you were rude all over the @[email protected]% street with Sunny, weren’t you? Rude?”
Angel: “Let me explain something to you, what happened to Sunny, man. What happened to her, is people think that if you have to kill somebody in the course of… doing business, sometimes it pays to advertise. You know, make it messy. Remind people they bleed when they die. It might even prevent more killings.”
Scudder: “You’re a real humanitarian.”
-Matt Scudder (Jeff Bridges) and Angel Moldonado (Andy Garcia) in 8 Million Ways To Die (1986)
Ray: “The #$%@ is the matter with you, man? Why aren’t you afraid?”
Scudder: “I don’t know. Maybe I don’t care if you shoot me or not.”
-Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) and Ray (David Harbour) in A Walk Among The Tombstones (2014)
“I don’t have a lot of money. But what I do have is a particular set of skills. Skills that could be a nightmare for someone like you.
If you don’t let the girl go, I will track you down, I WILL find you and I will kill you. Yaaaayyyyy!”
Kermit The Frog (Seth MacFarlane) in Jim Henson’s Taken (TBD)
The short version of this review is that A Walk Among The Tombstones is a well-crafted movie, a crime thriller about atrocities just as nightmarish as those seen in The Silence of the Lambs, but it’s so difficult to watch that it’s understandable that the movie performed only modestly at the box office. Liam Neeson is quite good in the central role as private investigator Matthew Scudder, and he’s surrounded by a host of good performances by lesser known players. The direction and production are first rate, making full use of a host of New York locations and slowly taking their time to ratchet up the tension. The issue is that the central crime being examined here – the kidnap and torture of young women – is handled in such a viscerally unpleasant manner that the movie quickly drives the viewer away. I made it through the movie, but I could understand if other viewers, particularly casual ones who have not read the Lawrence Block books or seen the 1986 movie, wind up simply turning the movie off after maybe 30 minutes. The Blu-ray presents the movie as well as it can, adding in two short featurettes about the Scudder character and the production. Fans of the books will probably want to rent this out of curiosity. More casual Liam Neeson fans are likely to be rudely surprised – this isn’t quite the Liam Neeson of Taken, even if he does get to threaten the bad guys over the phone. For the casual reader, that’s the long and short of it. You can skip ahead to the video and audio evaluations if you wish. Readers who want a more in-depth analysis should stick around.
Matthew Scudder is a character that stays with the reader long after you finish whatever mystery of his you’re reading. His creator, novelist Lawrence Block, has admitted that he’s repeatedly thought he was done with Scudder, only to discover there was more to his story that needed to be written. He’s very much a tragic figure, a failed NYPD cop whose alcoholism cost him his job, his marriage, essentially his life. In the books and in the movies where he’s appeared, he’s a lone wolf private investigator who somehow keeps winding up investigating things that are on the seedier and scarier side of the tracks. And yet, he also keeps reaching out, in his own way. The stories become just as much about Scudder battling his own demons as they are about him solving the scary mystery of the day. It may well be that Scudder’s strength is precisely that he is not a superhero. He’s just as scared and vulnerable as anyone else – but his innate need to see justice done compels him to finish these cases. Step by step, we see him work his way through a case, just as he obsessively attends his AA meetings and as he actually does make connections with other people, even while he himself denies doing so. It’s possible that the real story of the Matthew Scudder books is that of a man coming back to life – that he does so even while walking through the shadow of death.
Given that kind of character, it’s no surprise that filmmakers have long tried to adapt Block’s novels for the cinema. To date, there have been two films to feature Scudder. The first one was Hal Ashby’s 1986 adaptation of 8 Million Ways To Die, starring Jeff Bridges as a younger version of the character, transplanted to Los Angeles. The 1986 film is an odd but compelling collection of improvised scenes, centering on Scudder’s attempt to unravel the brutal death of a prostitute who begged him to keep her safe. (This is a common theme for Scudder – his attempts to protect people don’t seem to work out so well…) The 1986 Scudder is probably just as self-tortured as the character in Block’s novels, but played with a lot of swagger by Jeff Bridges. Bridges makes the character’s opening, life-destroying binge a truly scary thing to see, but aside from a short relapse, he actually seems to hold together pretty well. The crimes being examined in the 1986 film are prostitution and drugs, and by the end of the movie, Bridges’ Scudder has literally made a bonfire out of both of them. The 1986 movie is probably lighter than it should be, but it has the benefit of two great performances by Bridges and Andy Garcia, as well as an unsung supporting turn by Randy Brooks. And it’s Hal Ashby’s last movie, even if things went haywire in post production.
SPOILERS: The current film, A Walk Among The Tombstones, goes back to the novels and reimagines Matthew Scudder as a former NYPD cop. As played by Liam Neeson, Scudder is an older, more grizzled character. He’s definitely not the unstoppable killing machine we’ve seen in the Taken movies who calmly informs the bad guys exactly what horrible things he’s about to do them before angrily doing it. He’s not the superhero he seems to keep getting cast as, nor is he even much of an action star here. Instead, this Scudder is quite vulnerable – and he’s just as scared of the bad guys as the viewer is. And the bad guys here are really scary. As one of the featurettes points out, the team of bad guy kidnappers are almost blank cyphers when you see them up close – but they’re capable of truly horrific savagery. They’re ostensibly kidnapping these women for ransom, but it’s obvious they’re not in this for the money. They’re killing their victims because they enjoy it. And the worst of it is that nobody, not even the police, seem to know who or where these guys are. Injected into the middle of a new kidnapping is Neeson’s Scudder, and one would think he’d have multiple opportunities to pull a Taken and begin gruffly threatening everyone. But Scudder doesn’t. He does have words with the kidnappers on the phone, but not as a man out for revenge. He occasionally gets into a fight or a shootout, but as often as not, he loses. This is a man who’s lucky to get out of the movie alive – which does seem to line up more with the character Lawrence Block created and wrote all those novels to feature. (Block has stated that he is very happy with Neeson’s interpretation.) The supporting performances surrounding Neeson are also good, including Dan Stevens as an impossibly sympathetic drug kingpin and Brian Bradley as the homeless boy Scudder takes under his wing. And of course, the two villains of the movie are so deliberately bland, so innocuous that they take on a frightening weight by the time the movie gets to its climax.
MORE SPOILERS: All of this would be a good thing if the movie were not so visceral about how twisted the villains are with their savagery. Granted, the movie does not openly show the violence that is described much of the time. We’re not talking about SAW here. This movie works off suggestion. But it’s a really scary suggestion and the filmmakers never let up on the gas about how sick they’re willing to let the movie go. Once the villains and the movie begin fixating on a little girl, it’s clear that things will only become even nastier down the stretch. And yes, they do. For myself, this isn’t the kind of story I take pleasure in experiencing. I could live my entire life and not see a movie about two sick bastards planning to kidnap and torture a little girl. I could live my entire life and not have seen the moments of torture that they do show – not of the girl, thank goodness. At the same time, the movie understands that the point is to show how Matthew Scudder can deal with living in a world where monsters like this exist. But I would counter that I’d rather let the Matthew Scudders of the world deal with these monsters without making me spend time with them. So we’re talking about a well-made movie about a completely unpleasant subject. Add that bad aftertaste to the fact that the Liam Neeson fans were likely expecting Taken 2.5, and it becomes clear why this film only did decently at the box office without blowing the doors out anywhere.
A Walk Among The Tombstones was released last month on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray includes the movie in high definition, along with two short featurettes. The DVD includes the movie and one of the featurettes in standard definition. The Blu-ray includes the DVD edition in the packaging, along with instructions for downloading a digital copy.
A Walk Among The Tombstones is presented in a 2.40:1 1080p AVC encode (@ an average 30 mbps) that does well with the copious amount of New York locations on display, as well as a variety of flesh tones and other details. The black levels on the many night shots are solid. The one place where things get a little dicey is the closing CGI shot, where it’s frankly obvious that the view out the windows is not a real one, and not just because there are elements that can’t possibly be there.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
A Walk Among The Tombstones has an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (@ an average 3.4 mbps, but rising up to 4.7 mbps in gunfire scenes) that uses the front channels for the dialogue but does send the usual music and a few atmospherics here and there to the surrounds. This is an overall quieter mix, which is appropriate for a movie about quiet intensity. A Spanish DTS 5.1 mix is also included, as is an English DVS track.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
A Walk Among The Tombstones comes with two short featurettes about the making of the movie and the character of Matthew Scudder.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
A Look Behind The Tombstones – (12:07, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This featurette goes over a surprising amount of information for its short running time. The casting of Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens is discussed, as is the use of New York City as a character in itself. The setting of the story in 1999 gets some attention, given that the movie takes place in the shadow of Y2K and all that implies.
Matt Scudder: Private Eye – (6:26, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This short featurette starts with interview material with author Lawrence Block, who admits to having returned to Scudder multiple times after thinking he was done with him. Scott Frank goes into a fair amount of detail about the changes he made to the book to adapt it as a two hour movie, and Block acknowledges that these are two completely different forms for storytelling.
DVD – The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD edition, which holds the movie in standard definition with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English and Spanish (@448 kbps), along with the DVS track. The DVD includes just the A Look Behind The Tombstones featurette, albeit in standard definition.
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
A Walk Among The Tombstones is a well-made movie, featuring an interesting character from the pages of Lawrence Block’s novels, Matthew Scudder. Unfortunately, it’s also a movie that features a singularly unpleasant set of kidnappers, whose methods are dwelled on in a manner that I don’t think many viewers would care to experience. Fans of Block’s novels will probably enjoy the movie, but more casual fans are not likely to make it all the way through. And fans of Liam Neeson are likely to be disappointed that he doesn’t break more heads…
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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