Liam Neeson plays Matthew Scudder, a recovering alcoholic and ex-cop. Scudder quit the force after gunning down some street toughs robbing his neighborhood bar. His superiors begged him to stay, calling him a hero and giving him a commendation. Scudder quit anyway. He quit drinking too. Later, we learn his actions weren’t so heroic.
Nowadays, Scudder makes his living as an unlicensed private investigator. A drug trafficker hires Scudder to find the monsters who kidnapped, raped, tortured, and killed the trafficker’s wife. The trail leads Scudder to a pair of horrific sociopaths.
Scudder works the case as the killers stalk their next target. A better film would focus on the creepy killers, but this script doubles down on cop movie tropes.
Scudder acquires a plucky, street-smart homeless boy named TJ as a sidekick. TJ has sickle-cell anemia; a plot point designed to engender audience sympathy and facilitate an improbable third act. Will TJ break through Scudder’s tough exterior? I think you know the answer.
The film’s contempt for its audience’s intelligence is galling. At one point, Scudder discovers some hackneyed romance fiction. He reads it aloud even though he’s alone and the camera is on the page.
Spoon-feeding plot-points like this causes the film to drag. Consider the opening flashback sequence. Scudder sits in a car with his partner, who’s bemoaning Scudder’s drinking, saying he worries he can’t count on Scudder to have his back. Scudder gets out of the car and walks into a bar. It’s morning. He grabs a paper and sits down. Without a word, the bartender brings Scudder a coffee and two shots of whiskey.
Why not open with Scudder entering the bar? The morning light and wordless exchange tell us everything. And the partner? We never see him again.
Wikipedia tells me the film combines several Lawrence Block novels. Maybe they’re great and the script condensed too many subplots into this single movie. Regardless, it’s pretty damning that Liam Neeson’s would-be New York accent proves the least of this film’s problems.