Annoyingly, I missed this one at the cinema and it’s taken me far too long to catch up with it on the small screen. Based on a novel by Lawrence Block, it’s a dour slice of American grunge, featuring Liam Neeson as former detective and alcoholic, Matt Scudder, now plying a precarious trade as a private detective. Given Neeson’s relatively recent incarnation as everyone’s avenging Daddy of choice, it’s good to see him in a role where he actually carries a badge in order to justify his brutality, even if the badge in question is no longer valid. A pre credit sequence which shows him in his former incarnation, involved in a shootout with three bad guys, carries an entirely different accusation – that of crimes against fashion.
Now clean shaven and sans loon pants, Scudder receives a frantic phone call from drug trafficker, Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens, demonstrating just how far he is able to depart from his Downton image when necessity calls.) Kristo’s wife has been kidnapped and despite him paying a hefty ransom, she’s been murdered anyway. Now he wants revenge and feels that Scudder is just the man for the job. Despite his reservations, Scudder undertakes the job and soon finds himself pitted against a ruthless duo of sociopaths who have enacted the same routine over and over. It’s quickly demonstrated that the bad guys are such scumbags that any retribution rained upon them will be richly deserved. A scene where Ray (David Harbour) espies his latest victim, a young girl dressed in a Little Red Riding Hood style, is the film’s most powerfully repellent set piece. Other scenes depicting the torture of the murderer’s female victims, stray very close to the line between powerful and gratuitous, so this certainly won’t be for everyone.
Written and directed by Scott Frank, AWATT is a powerful crime drama, though its stygian look can be a little dispiriting and its demonstration of the depths to which the human psyche can descend makes for grim viewing.