We first meet Scudder in 1991 NYC as a drunk detective who guns down some bad guys in a holdup gone wrong. But a miscalculation on his behalf goes bad and he gives up the booze and the badge to become an unlicensed private investigator.Fast-forward to a chilly 1999 NYC and a sober Scudder meets a fellow recovering addict whose drug trafficking brother, Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) wants to hire him. It seems that Kenny’s wife was kidnapped, a ransom paid, but then the kidnappers killed her anyway and now Kenny just wants revenge. At first Matthew balks at the gig and the hefty $40K salary, but then (and quite coincidentally) he meets a runaway homeless black kid named T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley–“Astro” is his rapper name–sheesh!) in a library. T.J., aside from having computer skills, is intelligent and aspires to be a gumshoe in the vein of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.
Together they realize that the “kidnap, pay, and then kill the hostage” ploy has been done before by the same two guys, but only to wealthy drug traffickers. . . which makes sense since they would never go to the cops for help. Matthew takes the case and starts to follow clues and finds James (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson–really good), a creepy and mentally-off cemetery worker who keeps pigeons and provides some vital info. More clues and more leads provide Matthew with proof that the bad guys are ex-DEA cops (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) and real twisted sickos as well!
Meanwhile, the creeps kidnap a Russian drug trafficker’s teenage daughter and Matthew steps in for the hostage negotiations; something the bad guys didn’t expect. The ransom exchange for the girl goes down in the cemetery and just when you think all is well and the exchange goes smoothly, someone does something stupid. The ending, which I won’t give away, is both tense and happens with nail-biting excitement.
Written for the screen and directed with a keen eye by Scott Frank, you can practically feel the coldness of the dark, bleak city with all its muted colors and wintery shadows, thanks to cinematographer Mihai Malaimare, Jr.
Neeson (and his particular set of skills) was born for this role (although Harrison Ford was the first choice) and thankfully he doesn’t fall back on his Taken character, although you can’t help but see a little of it when he’s giving out the ransom instructions to the kidnappers over the phone.
Rapper-turned-actor Bradley is also very good here and proves he can act, even after being in that recent silly kids film, Earth To Echo. There’s a feeling of old school film noir, given the fact that 40’s detectives are mentioned in the movie and the pace is slow and solid, not that that is a bad thing. Yes, it could has used a few tweaks here and there for pacing in this almost two hour movie, but overall, I enjoyed the performances throughout.