This Friday, the big screen adaptation of Lawrence Block’s A Walk Among the Tombstones hits theaters. Liam Neeson, riding high on his action renaissance sparked by Taken, plays Block’s iconic private eye and recovering alcoholic Matthew Scudder. It’s a damn good book and from what I’ve heard, Scott Frank’s film for the most part stays faithful and captures the grittiness and black soul of Block’s vision.
This isn’t the first time a Scudder novel has made its way to film. Back in the summer of ’86, Jeff Bridges first played him in Hal Ashby’s 8 Million Ways to Die. The adaptation had some truly solid writers behind it: Oliver Stone, David Lee Henry (Road House), and Robert Towne (Chinatown). This turned out to be the final film for Ashby, who was one of the most captivating filmmakers of the ‘70s. He was a socially conscious director whose output represents some of the most heartfelt human dramas of the era (Harold & Maude, The Last Detail, Being There).
“You don’t steal the American dream, you work for it.”
There are loads of movies where progressively worse crimes are committed to cover up the initial one, which tends to seem so innocent at the time. The wicked fun Quicksand comes to mind. I don’t think there are any as quite heartbreaking as Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan. The film takes the audience slowly through the consequences of that first act of crime, showing how it unravels the lives of the players involved. Inevitably, it causes them to turn on each other, but in places far more painful than their pocketbook. Before Minnesota family man Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton) fully realizes it, he’s trapped in a spiral of blind greed, murder, and ultimately, deep remorse.
For the elder McDonagh’s sophomore effort, Calvary, he reunites with The Guard star Brendan Gleeson, who plays spiritually weary Father James, whose small rural parish on Ireland’s northwestern shores is made up of depraved locals. The film opens in the confessional, with an anonymous man in the booth telling James how he was brutally raped by a priest when he was a child. Now he’s seeking revenge against God the only way he sees how: by murdering an innocent man, Father James. “I’m going to kill you because you’ve done nothing wrong,” the man says. Now that’s how you grab an audience by the throat in the opening minutes.
Is there a bigger caper than the illusion of a happy marriage? More than any heist or hold-up, breaking down someone wearing a matching ring is a tremendously emotional and spiritual crime. That’s the thesis at the heart of The Big Caper. A remarkable cheapie film that’s about a payroll rip-off on the surface, The Big Caper pits the underworld against the suburbs in superb pulp fashion while aiming its sights at two lustful crooks on both sides of the bed.
Also, I’m proud to say that I’ve been accepted into the Florida Film Critics Circle. I join the ranks of some damn good writers and am excited to be participating in the Best of 2014 awards. Keep your eyeballs peeled and moist for those at the end of the year.
I watched 1953’s The Large Rope on Netflix Streaming because I was attracted by “the large” at the front of the title. The world of noir LOVES titles containing “the big” (The Big Heat, The Big Knife, The Big Combo, The Big Clock), so I figured The Large Rope would be kinda in their mold, only British. I was dead wrong – it’s actually a paranoid pastoral piece effectively acted and wound tightly around a scenic English village. It’s no noir, but The Large Rope is a fantastic little crime film that addresses the persecuting powers of suspicion and rumor mills (in a small town that has an actual mill).
The Big Knife is a sensational depiction of the movie business along the lines of Sunset Boulevard. But while Nora Desmond delusionally vied to force her way back into the movie business that left her behind, The Big Knife‘s protagonist will do whatever it takes to be left alone by its ruthless power brokers. Based on Clifford Odets’ abrasive play and directed by Richard Aldrich, The Big Knife has a lot of great things going for it, including a terrific cast and wonderfully contrasting lead character, but ultimately it’s way over the top and meanders too much to really have the fatalistic impact it seems to be going for.
John Cusack has been cashing checks on the DTV circuit lately. Thrillers like The NumbersStation, The Factory, and Frozen Ground have allowed him to essentially phone it in, which is a sad state of affairs for such a solid actor. One of the last films where Cusack got to fully embody a character and make it clear that nobody else could play the role was Harold Ramis’ comedy neo-noir The Ice Harvest. He plays mob lawyer Charlie Arglist, a patient, calm man whose employment clashes with his inherent kindness. Watching Cusack’ less-is-more approach makes it tough to imagine anyone else in the role. His smirks, collected demeanor, and knowing gaze penetrate the colorful cast of characters he encounters on an icy Christmas Eve in Wichita, Kansas. When the mayhem clears, Arglist still manages to have a sense of decency about him. The Ice Harvest is a fine example of neo-noir in the thematic tradition of a man way in over his head.
This one’s a pretty decent, yet wholly underwhelming “wrong man” film in which a drunk Korean War veteran is accused of murdering a young girl. A Crime Against Joe has a pretty drab script, but there’s enough interesting stuff going on to be engaging. There’s a cool high school graduation pin subplot, for example, that leads the protagonist begrudgingly down memory lane to see which of his fellow alumni is framing him for murder. Other than that element and a few other fun aspects, A Crime Against Joe fails to really pack a punch.