This is the day when the Papermaven and the Filmmaven gang up on the attempts to take terrific novelization characters onto film. For Lawrence Block its been a truly epic failure. I must say, that is not his fault. Do people who capture novels for film not read? or at least talk to readers? or the author? I admit – I’m baffled. Its so rare that a beloved book can make the transition but I’m going to be especially hard on Frank Scott
A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014, dir/writer Frank Scott) — At first I was a little put off by the idea of Liam Neeson playing this iconic hard boiled hard drinking Hell’s Kitchen private eye. I do make a few snide comments in general about the number of UK actors taking all the good hero roles that could/should be better played by Americans (Tom Hiddleston is Hank Sr????) What? we don’t have handsome hero types? Coming so close to his TAKEN films, I thought the character development into Matt Scudder would take a hit.
To my surprise Liam is the best thing about the film. He is perfect as the gruff loner driven to sober life by a tragic mistake. His bitter, empathetic, thinking 3 things at once solitary aura is well suited for Matt Scudder and I can see him developing over time as the more evolved mature private eye that comes through out the many, many, many novels as written by Lawrence Block.
Its the secondary story development that dives right into blah, yuk, why is this even here? I stopped watching Law & Order several years ago for this very reason- the murder, rape and kidnapping of women is not entertainment. Using shock value is one thing, glorifying and sexualizing the terror and torture is not okay. Its just NOT OKAY. As a matter of fact ..its gross, demoralizing for the viewer. Taking a seductive camera gaze over a woman being tortured and raped is not good film-making. Its not even lower level student style film-making -oh I misstepped the attempt to make it horrifying. Mr. Frank Scott, I think you know better- and if you don’t I’m sorry this was a way to a hard learned lesson. I’m offended and disgusted. There is really almost no way to take this from the page and do it right.
For readers of Lawrence Block novels NYC is the second character. Hell’s Kitchen is like family to Scudder. In a scene on the roof top, a suspect cares for his pigeons and talks about his life, giving Scudder vital clues to solve the mystery. This scene comes the closest to being taken directly from the novel to the screen. It has mood, visually and characterization develops Block’s style off the page into life. If only the entire piece could have done as much. Scudder’s reaction and the follow up scenes build on that character and say so much more by really not saying anything.
As papermaven, I highly recommend all things Block….as a film maven – we are not feeling so generous:
BURGLAR (1987, dir; Hugh Wilson) — Making Bernie a woman was a great idea and Whoopi Goldberg is pretty good on film…so why didn’t this click? I can’t say for sure – I enjoyed the film but I didn’t make that connection to Bernie Rhodenbarr and wish for more…and really any film that features Bernie should have done just that ….again, Lawrence Block created a character that is likable, amusing, always getting into trouble and set for a terrific franchise. Yet, this film falls very short of giving Bernie the delightful turn that he deserved. I think that is where this film fell short, it need to develop the character of Bernie and then tell us the story. Maybe there is hope? it would make a great weekly series, sort of the Laura Diamond of crime?