Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Film Pairings — Out Of The Theaters, Into Your Homes

For some I may be a pitiful example of a mystery writer. I get squeamish around a lot of blood and guts. While my most recent book (Killing Frost— have I plugged it enough?) was more graphic than usual, it doesn’t hold a candle to these two contemporary crime tales.  I’m not taking a moral stand here. I don’t believe in censorship. I do believe in warnings, though.  These are two tough films.   In one, however, the violence is intrinsic.  In the other, well, it seems over the top.

Liam Neeson As Matthew Scudder
 A Walk Among The Tombstones — The violence in this gritty P.I film seems organic. It is the nature of the beast. Not only is Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) believable as a kind of determined hulk, but the story is, if you follow the news, grounded in reality. The film (2014) was directed by Scott Frank and based on the book of the same name by acclaimed veteran series writer Lawrence Block. Scudder is largely indifferent human. Generally speaking, right and wrong are empty concepts. Taking joy in unnecessary cruelty is something else and P.I. Scudder handles the situation with proportional retaliation. I hope there’s another Scudder film in the works.

 The Equalizer — The original “Equalizer,” a TV series on which this movie was loosely (and I mean loosely) based, starred Edward Woodward.  The original provided the title, the name of the title character, his former profession and, in a sense, the premise of the plot. Sometimes people find themselves in situations not entirely of their doing and because they are up against a power they can neither defeat nor escape, they need help – usually to beat down a bully. As a private eye writer, stopping bullies is one of my special interests as well.  As these kinds of stories end, we get a sense of fulfillment that the bully has received his or her comeuppance. 

Denzel Washington As The Equalizer
I looked forward to Denzel Washington’s portrayal of the ex-CIA agent Robert McCall who in the past with a little more care than the average vigilante equalized opposing forces.  Washington’ performed well in crime fiction films before. He was Walter Mosley’s creation, Easy Rawlins, in Devil in a Blue Dress and Frank Lucas in American Gangster, and he has had praiseworthy performances in a wide range of films and plays.  He’s good here too. However I’d advise viewers that this isn’t a thriller so much as a horror movie — though as Seinfield would say, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” The 2014 film exhibits lots of truly unique ways to puncture human flesh. In fact we find an imaginative final battle in a large-box home store with all sorts of gore-producing gadgets not readily available in most street fights. I was more amused than frightened when Washington’s character who moved at a snail’s pace throughout the film to create his sense of calm in the face of danger was also filmed in slow motion to further enhance a sense of menace.  He spends the whole movie looking at his watch.  I know why. I think he was worried the film was going on a little too long.  

Another Equalizer is planned. I hope they spend more time on the psychological rather than physiological and much less time on gadgets of bloodletting.  More cunning, less cutting.

If you are called to the spirits, remember the night is pretty hardcore. Whatever you pour, the glass should contain nothing else but an ice cube or two.

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