Liam Neeson takes on the leading role, of a recovering alcoholic and former cop who now works for himself, tackling crime single handedly. Though somewhat reluctant to take on paid assignments, when a beleaguered drug dealer Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) calls on his help to avenge the brutal murder of his wife, Scudder can’t resist getting involved, and so sets out – alongside his new friend, the teenager TJ (Astro), to find these callous killers and prevent them from striking again.
The premise itself is potentially captivating, as the story is set up masterfully and the tone set when we delve into a harrowing and unforgiving flashback where we see Kristo’s wife being abducted and tortured. However it’s what follows that is the problem, as the frustratingly inconsistent tone shifts throughout. There’s a desolate, brooding mood created, with the rain relentlessly beating down, as we study a crime that consists of an innocent, young woman being raped, and then having her dismembered body left in the boot of an abandoned car. It’s bleak and morbid, and yet the scene that follows this has Scudder and TJ sitting in a cafe, having a tongue-in-cheek, somewhat facetious conversation, instantly devaluing what came before. That’s not to say there is no room for frivolity in pictures such as this, but the way the tone fluctuates is clumsy and careless, with a light humour implemented in all the wrong places, and at all the wrong times.
The villains of the piece epitomise this sentiment, as while in Neeson you have a dependable, authoritarian to invest in, our antagonists are not quite sinister enough, at times becoming almost farcical in their approach, cheapening the entire narrative. Being unhinged and psychotic is effective, but they seem too light-hearted at times to fully believe in. Also, with films of this ilk we crave some ambiguity to proceedings, as the uncovering of the killers should make for an enticing, suspenseful affair. Yet almost from the very start it’s made patently obvious who it is, meaning we lose that entire sense of ambivalence. Thankfully, however, Neeson turns in a commendable performance as our protagonist, in a role we’ve seen him play a million times before, granted, but one few can do quite as well.
As film noir appears to be a genre somewhat consigned to a Hollywood of old, it’s certainly enjoyable to watch a film of play up to the conventionalities and tropes of the cinematic style, with many shots of men in long coats standing outside houses in the pouring rain a source of immense gratification. Yet regrettably that mere image is not quite enough to save this underwhelming production, which is too generic and hackneyed. If anybody attempts to reinvent Scudder on the big screen in another 20 years time, here’s hoping they do a better job of it.