They've done it at last: made a Liam Neeson-stomps-some-ass flick where, as the credits roll, there's more to be glad you saw than Neeson himself. Based on one of those Lawrence Block novels that's pretty smart but also too invested in the mechanics of rape and torture, the movie's a grim beauty. Writer-director Scott Frank has crafted the kind of thriller that Neeson's brooding elder-toughs have deserved all along, a tense and prickly picture more interested in shoe-leather investigative work than in making a lark of brutal deaths.
The case Neeson's on is yet another kidnapping, this time of the wife of a drug trafficker (Dan Stevens) who offers 40 grand to Neeson's Matt Scudder to locate the perpetrators: goateed white boys, pale as the grubs under rocks, played by David Harbour and Adam David Thompson. Of course, Scudder finds they're up to much more than this one abduction, and Frank dutifully shows us flashes of his heavies engaged in the sexualized violence so common to bestselling crime novels. He suggests it rather than dwells, but what excuse is there for a scene of a rapist calmly demanding a woman choose which breast he won't slice off, especially in a film that otherwise never finds time for a woman to have a speaking part?
That aside, the movie is rich in dark pleasures. Without sacrificing the momentum of the crime story, Frank and director of photography Mihai Mălaimare Jr, immerse us in long, static shots, sharply composed, where we see into one hollow of the billions rotted into the city -- and are left to wonder what outside life might be pressing in on Scudder.