Gestating for many years, Lawrence Block’s 1992 novel finally reaches the big screen with Liam Neeson as central character Matthew Scudder, a recovering alcoholic operating as a private detective some years after deciding to leave the NYPD. Neeson was apparently Block’s top choice for the role (Harrison Ford was reportedly attached to the project at one point) and it’s easy to see why, with a string of very successful ‘Liam Neeson versus’ films in his recent back catalogue, Non-Stop being the most recent example, and this time he’s up against COMPLETE SCUMBAGS in the guise of crooks that abduct girls and collect the ransom money but then butcher their captives anyway, so there is a somewhat gleeful element of – ‘Liam Neeson is on your case, you are totally fucked’.
The film opens very strongly, with a visceral scene of violence that fits completely the rather macabre title and sets up what is to follow very promisingly indeed. As the mystery unfolds it’s easy to get caught up in it, although unfortunately it never again reaches the intensity of the opening ten minutes. Come the end, it feels like the story is clutching at straws – trying to remain interesting whilst delivering something original, but only really succeeding at very average padding to round the film off with. Part of the problem is it begins with a very Dirty Harry esque character who then goes on a redemptive arc, which may be realistic, considerate and even gritty in its own right, but it’s also a little tedious when the narrative is trying to create scenarios to then justify the retribution or violence that the character is trying to avoid. Good enough to merit future adaptations of Block’s work though (Jeff Bridges previously played Scudder in ‘8 Million Ways to Die’, back in 1986), and a decent directorial effort from Scott Frank, better known for his work on screenplays, such as ‘Malice’ 93, ‘Out of Sight’ 98, ‘Minority Report’ 02 and The Wolverine. Also with Dan Stevens and David Harbour.