Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones

is a bit of a throwback, the sort of noir film we don't get much these days.  Based on the Lawrence Block novel of the same name and featuring Liam Neeson as Block's ex-cop, Matt Scudder, the movie captures a great deal of the feel of the Scudder novels.  That fact was one of the reasons I quite enjoyed the movie, but it also means this is a dark movie with moments of graphic violence, even brutality. 

Neeson is a noir-film protagonist in the classic mold, a man who has done bad things and who knows he will do them again, but one who tries to play by his rules in a world that often appears to have no rules. Some critics have faulted the movie for staying within its genre and for having some of the faults of that genre, but I disagree that this is a problem.  The film is a noir detective story, and if you like those, as I do, that's a fine thing indeed. 

The world's lack of rules is most present in the bad guys, who are very, very bad indeed.  I warned that the movie contains brutal moments, and the bad guys deliver them in moments that are upsetting indeed.

Some critics, such as Allison Willmore, have criticized the film for using women only as meat.  They're right.  The movie's greatest weakness lies in its depiction of women as either objects of perfection glimpsed in beautiful moments or, more commonly, as victims, meat for the villain butchers.  The opening sequence is the most disturbing instance of this behavior, but it's not the only one.  It feels as if the filmmakers were trying to set the 1999-based movie in an even earlier time and striving for a retro feel, a time when many, many movies treated women that way (well, many still do, but that's another essay), but the result is uncomfortable by today's standards. I wish the filmmakers had dealt with women rather differently, something I believe would be possible without altering the movie in any fundamental way.

In the end, as is my wont, I enjoyed A Walk Among the Tombstones despite this flaw and the film's other weaknesses, but I remain a bit uncomfortable with that enjoyment.  I recommend it only with this reservation and the warnings above.

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