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The Drop • A Walk Among

The Tombstones

September 25, 2014

The Drop (***)

There’s no mistaking that the crime thriller The Drop is the work of a novelist. It’s evident in both its structuring and payoff. The film unfolds in true novelistic fashion, unfolding layer by layer, setting the audience up for a shattering climax provided during its final thirty minutes.

As such, it comes as no surprise that the film’s script is penned by Dennis Lehane, the scribe behind such recent and critically lauded novel to film adaptations as Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island. The only difference here is that Lehane has opted to adapt his own short story Animal Rescue instead of allowing it to be farmed out to a screenwriter for hire. The result is about what you would expect coming from such a seasoned vet as Lehane. And I mean that in the best possible way.

It doesn’t hurt matters that the film is so impeccably well cast. The ever-prolific Tom Hardy (Dark Knight Rises, etc.) is a master of performances requiring restraint and this one is no exception.

James Gandolfini & Tom Hardy in The Drop

He’s so good at this it even proves to be frustrating during some of the film’s early scenes. Once it becomes clear, during the film’s final act, why he’s been a bit on the emotionally cold side you realize what a perfect choice Hardy was for this role.

Then there’s the final film performance of the late James Gandolfini featured here, which is certainly worth the price of admission. Gandolfini goes out on a characteristically high note, as one would expect, portraying the type of unsavory underworld character that defined his all too short career. It’s a fitting send off to such a great talent.

The Drop referred to in the film’s title is a reference to the illegally obtained cash booty being deposited in Brooklyn bars by gangster types. Marv (Gandolfini) is the former owner of one those bars. Now he’s little more than a manager, going through the motions with his loyal cousin, Bob (Hardy) serving as his right hand man. Bob is the strong, silent type as the film begins but, as everyone knows, movie characters must change and grow in order for the story to reach its destination. Bob’s growth comes as a result of two incidents, the first being his fortuitous meeting with a single female (Noomi Rapace) who lives nearby and the second stemming from his chance encounter with an abandoned puppy he finds in a trash can. Bob’s capacity to love and protect is immediately called into question when a shady character shows up laying claim to both the puppy and the girl.

The film, like most crime dramas, of this sort does have sudden bursts of graphic violence punctuating the proceedings from time to time. Some viewers may find this unsettling but it feels organic to the story and it’s hard to lodge a complaint against this choice on the part of the filmmakers it doesn’t detract from what is an overall satisfying experience. It may take a while to get there but it’s worth the trip. 

A Walk Among The Tombstones  (** 1/2)

In spite of the fact that actor Liam Neeson is front and center in director/screenwriter Scott Frank’s film A Walk Among the Tombstones, this isn’t the kind of thing that’s likely going to please fans of Neeson’s Taken franchise. No, those folks are going to be expecting fast paced action of the generic variety, while Tombstones is a more contemplative experience.

And, yet, that’s part of the film’s downfall. On the one hand, it’s great that Neeson has found his way back to more substantive material but on the other hand you can’t help but wish that Tombstones would find a good balance of intelligence and great action set pieces that make up the best examples of films in this genre.

One of the problems in A Walk Among the Tombstones is the film’s tendency to meander.

Liam Neeson in A Walk Among The Tombstones

I find nothing wrong with a diversion from time to time in a film’s story but there are far too many instances in Tombstones where its detours don’t really add anything of substance and tend to give the film a padded feel.

Neeson does his best in the role of Matt Scudder and it’s a far cry from his turn in recent action films along the lines of the aforementioned Taken series. Scudder is a leading character in a series of books by author Lawrence Block. Actor Jeff Bridges previously starred in a Scudder film adaptation nearly thirty years ago, 8 Million Ways to Die. Neeson seems like a more logical choice than Bridges was all those years ago due to the age gap, although it’s hard to really say since the latter film was so poorly made.

Here Scudder is portrayed as being a recovering alcoholic who made his fair share of mistakes working as a cop in his younger days while under the influence. Cut to the present and Scudder is now a licensed private detective. Enter drug trafficker, Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens), into the picture. Kristo is none too happy that his wife was kidnapped and, even after the ransom money was delivered, murdered. Kristo enlists Scudder to exact revenge and find those responsible. He eventually does locate Kristo’s wife’s kidnappers but finds that these men aren’t willing to stop with just one kidnapping or murder.

The most problematic thing about Tombstones, aside from its meandering nature, is the film’s tendency to wallow in questionable degradation. For example, there is a scene where a victim’s breast is sliced off (which gives you an idea of what to expect). It’s hard to come away from the film without achieving some sort of sleazy feeling with scenes like that on prominent display.

If Liam Neeson is content to do action films on a regular basis these days, I suppose there are worse things one could experience than A Walk Among the Tombstones. I just wish the film would have stayed on track more often but then I guess you can’t have everything.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

 

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