It’s been a bunch of years since the last time someone tried to adapt Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder books for the screen; you have to go all the way back to Eight Million Ways to Die, which is mainly remembered - and that not much - as the first movie that gave Andy Garcia anything real to do. It’s also got a pretty solid Jeff Bridges performance, but Bridges’ real glory days came later and it’s hard to imagine anyone including it in a greatest hits of Jeff Bridges movie night.
Probably the biggest thing that went wrong with Eight Million Ways to Die was that nobody seemed to see anything wrong in relocating the action to southern California; once you’ve wrenched Scudder out of New York, you’ve vanished the protagonist’s real sidekick. Scudder is not a creature of sunshine, not in any way. He belongs on the mean streets of New York, brooding on stuff.
So thirty years later someone’s blown the dust off A Walk Among the Tombstones, a kinda-mid-period Scudder, and tried to get it right. Scudder is in New York, where he belongs, and in the 1990s, where he belongs. And Liam Neeson’s a surprisingly not bad Scudder, even if he does feel more like a dried out version of Bill Marks. A little bit too handy with the old ultra-violence, but fallible and compromised (his best line comes when he’s asked if he left the cops because of corruption “No, that was all that let me keep my family in comfort.”).
The thing is that it feels like the pilot for a TV show no-one’s going to make. We meet Scudder, we meet TJ (I have never made my mind up whether Scudder’s gradual development of a teenage sidekick and a second wife were Flanderisation or a journey of redemption), and we get the sense of how Scudder gets by on the margins of the big city. Meet Matt Scudder, drunk cop turned recovering alcoholic fixer! Meet TJ, street kid and miniature magical negro! Together they fight crime! Sort of! Except when they lose.
Except Liam Neeson’s not going to give up massive paydays for Taken clones to slum it on TV, and the world’s full of cop shows anyhow. So it’s a one-off that’s OK while it lasts. It might have been more than OK if they’d picked one of the Scudder books which wasn’t all about creepy serial killers - I came across a great phrase on the internet today “Stacks O Dead Ladies” which perfectly sums up the way that every damn crime movie and cop show seems to default to chopping up women. Why can’t brave duos fight some other kind of crime?
If they ever do try to make a Scudder TV show, it hit me this morning, all they have to do is wait for Donal Logue to get killed on Gotham. Logue would be a perfect Scudder.