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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

man I am officially tired of being asked to sympathize with: Liam Neeson in A Walk Among the Tombstones

also not getting a lot of sympathy from me: men with guns who use violence to solve their problems

also not getting a lot of sympathy from me: men with guns who use violence to solve their problems

My list of men I am officially tired of being asked to sympathize with in movies has grown today, after I received a press release regarding the film A Walk Among the Tombstones, currently scheduled to open in September on both sides of the Atlantic. It included this synopsis of the film:

Formerly a detective with the NYPD, now a recovering alcoholic haunted by regrets,

And I stopped right there. Are they kidding? They’re not kidding.

It continues:

Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) has a lot to make up for. When a series of kidnappings targeting the city’s worst drug criminals escalates to grisly murder, the circuit’s ruthless leader convinces Scudder to find the culprits and bring them to bloody justice. Working as an unlicensed private detective, Matt sees what the police don’t see and treads where they most fear to. Operating just outside the law to track down the monsters responsible, Scudder stops just short of becoming one himself.

The IMDb describes the plot thusly:

Private investigator Matthew Scudder is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, Hollywood, change the goddamn record already.

  • cinderkeys

    “Working as an unlicensed private detective, Matt sees what the police don’t see and treads where they most fear to.”


    Change the record … or flip to a more realistic side: http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-surprising-things-you-learn-as-real-life-private-eye/

  • Tonio Kruger

    In other words, he sees dead people?

  • Robert P

    Isn’t “unlicensed private detective” a contradiction in terms?

    Matt sees what the police don’t see and treads where they most fear to.
    Operating just outside the law to track down the monsters responsible,
    Scudder stops just short of becoming one himself.

    Ah, so he’s Batman.

    This flick, Taken 3* – so I guess the Rob Roy, Schindler’s List era of his career is over? Now it’s the later Charles Bronson stage?

    * I haven’t actually seen Taken 2/3 yet, maybe unlike other typical sequels they’re excellent….?

  • RogerBW

    In the books, he deliberately remains unlicenced because he wants to avoid the formalities that go with it, and because he doesn’t want the sort of boring day-to-day work that a real PI gets.

  • RogerBW

    A film of a book published twenty-two years ago, about a character first published thirty-eight years ago, when these things weren’t quite as worn-out as they are now. For me it’s not so much that it’s unoriginal, it’s that anyone chose to make the film in the first place. I’ve read and enjoyed the Scudder books, but they didn’t make a huge impression on me in the long term, and this isn’t even one of the fan favourites.

  • David

    If only Patrick Swayze was still alive he and Neeson could do a buddy film.

  • Beowulf

    The mother of his children died of a brain injury, let this poor guy make as much money as he can before he’s too old to play these parts … which he would be if he were a woman (Duck!).

  • Kevin Burton Smith

    Me, I’m officially tired of being asked to sympathize with the viewpoints of people who are so ready to jump on a bandwagon they don’t even bother to do the least bit of research. As Roger BW points out, this film wasn’t written yesterday, so it probably doesn’t address whatever the hell the point was being discussed on yesterday’s THE VIEW or last month’s MOTHER JONES.

    But, Roger notwithstanding, a lot of people (men and women) hold those books and short stories by Lawrence Block in high regard. I hope the film is as good as the book — the last few attempts at adapting Block’s novels (THE BURGLAR and 8 MILLION WAYS TO TO DIE) were misguided and abysmal wrecks.

    But getting all hotted up, sniffing out some misogynist agenda from some pre-release Hollywood hyperbole?

    Cut the film some slack, MaryAnn, and wait until it comes out to let loose the outrage. And consider this: Block used to be a lesbian.

  • The View? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Are you dropping in something you think all women use as a touchstone? And you then think you can dismiss what I’m saying because of this? Seriously?

    It matters not one whit when the book was written. This movie is happening *now,* and is being dropped into an entertainment environment that needs some different kinds of stories, not more of the same.

    I will not cut Hollywood some slack. Even if this is the greatest film ever made, it is will be yet another story that saturates pop culture.

    And there are many many many books held in high regard that don’t tell familiar stories that Hollywood could be adapting. Why this one, and not those? Why are stories about men valued over all else, even when we’ve heard very similar stories countless times before?

    No one is asking you to sympathize with my perspective. If you never visit this site again, you will be able to ignore me and will easily never encounter my perspective or anything like it ever again. I, however, cannot escape how overloaded our culture is with stories with precisely this narrow sort of male protagonist.

  • Overflight

    Just comes to show Liam Neeson only plays two sorts of roles these days: “Liam Neeson Is A Rugged Badass” (Non Stop, Taken, The Grey) and “Liam Neeson Needs To Pay The Bills” (Battleship, Wrath of the Titans, A Million Ways To Die In The West)

  • LaSargenta

    There’s another. I’ve now seen the trailer for Third Person twice. I think I’d sum that up as Rueful Manly Man Who Is Scared of His Feelings.

  • LaSargenta

    Rob Roy was no Schindler’s List.

  • Kevin Burton Smith

    You don’t care “even if this is the greatest film ever made”?

    Yeah, that sure sounds like an open mind. But you’re right about one thing: since your mind is already made up, I guess there isn’t much point in my coming back. I can get the same sort of close-minded, isolationist, fact-challenged view by watching FOX News or reading the local rag. They’re big on jumping to conclusions, too, and pontificating the hell out of everything. Facts only get in the way.

    I didn’t realize there was a quota on “this” sort of story or “that” sort of story. Good to know you’re keeping score for us all.

    Sad thing is, you’re so self-righteous you don’t even consider that I may have some sympathy (or is it empathy) for your point of view — or that your seething, polarizing rage makes you seem like just another kook with an ax to grind and a second-hand agenda.

    I’m actually all for diversity in pop culture, but not the kind of narrow, force-fed “diversity” you seem to be prescribing from up there on your high horse.

  • LaSargenta

    She’s not narrowing the choices, she’s asking that they be expanded.

  • Bluejay

    Facts only get in the way.

    Have you SEEN the stats on the imbalance in gender representation in Hollywood? MaryAnn’s frustration and argument are COMPLETELY based on the facts.

    I didn’t realize there was a quota on “this” sort of story or “that” sort of story.

    Because the sort of story that saturates the marketplace privileges your (our) gender, and has for a very long time, so it’s easy to see it as normal. If 90% of all pop culture stories were about women (or about Jamaicans in dreadlocks, to borrow from Danielm80), men would probably find it easier to notice the imbalance.

    I’m actually all for diversity in pop culture, but not the kind of narrow, force-fed “diversity” you seem to be prescribing from up there on your high horse.

    What’s force-fed about it? She’s saying we’ve seen this kind of story countless times before, and she’d rather see other kinds of stories instead. How is that different from the diversity you’re in favor of?

  • Arthur

    Keynes said, “A sound banker, alas, is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.” – The same can be said for producers. As long as there’s an audience, they’ll be making this, and if the audience gets sick of it, at least the producers can claim that they were just following a successful model.

  • Kevin Burton Smith

    I’m not denying the imbalance. Hell, I’m all for multi-culturalism and multi-lingualism and all colours and creeds coming together in one glorious rainbow-hued, Babel-tongued stir-fry of humanity. Fuck the melting pot — who wants the cream of homogeneity when we can have it chunky style?

    But saying– sight unseen — that she’s “officially tired” of a movie that is months away from release — and the trailer was only released a day or so ago — based solely on its subject matter — is the sort of knee-jerk instant prejudice and dimestore cynicism MaryAnn would be all upset about were it emanating from the right.

    Imagine the steam pouring out from MaryAnn’s nostrils were some FOX pundit to loudly ridicule and roll their eyes at some much-anticipated tender coming of age story about a poor black/physically-challenged/lesbian/Jewish/Amish/Lituanian/whatever girl during the Depression that won’t even be released until next fall.

  • But you’re right about one thing: since your mind is already made up,

    Yes. My mind is made up that our pop culture is dominated by stories about men, and that we get the same sorts of stories over and over again.

    That doesn’t mean that I won’t see, evaluate, and review any given individual film on its own merits.

    But I will not stop complaining about how we need more different kinds of stories and perspectives getting mainstream entertainment treatment.

  • Except when these sorts of movies fail — and plenty of them do — no one in Hollywood *ever* says, “Maybe we should stop making movies about angst-ridden white men who resort to violence to express their emotional turmoil.”

  • Bluejay

    Whatever Fox’s reasons for ridiculing a “tender coming of age story about a poor black/physically-challenged/lesbian/Jewish/Amish/Lithuanian/whatever girl during the Depression,” it won’t be because the market is bursting to saturation with such stories.

  • I’m NOT “officially tired” of a movie. I’m officially tired of it being expected that I am going to greet the 187,765th iteration of the same story with giddy glee.

  • Robert P

    Lol – well, strictly speaking no, they were two different movies. I would categorize both in the “good” category.

  • LaSargenta

    I wouldn’t. I think Rob Roy probably started as good movie, but the story got edited weirdly and emotions appeared to jump all over the place.

  • Possibly there is a difference between seeing the thousandth retelling of a plot and a plot that is ALMOST NEVER SEEN, or considered a “fringe” or “art” movie when it is. Believe me, I would LOVE for there to be enough big budget action movies with women/gay/non-white protagonists for me to actually pick and choose among them.

  • You know, the college prof in me always wants to lecture on marked and unmarked forms, the straight white make default, etc. The rest of me just wants to shake people and say, “how can you not see this???”

  • I’ve been watching movies and reading crime fiction for about four decades. Trust me, the “lone man defies the rules to accomplish what the ‘system’ can’t” was tired a loooooong time ago.

  • Because Hollywood is run by straight white men, and it seems normal to them that most of the stories they tell should be about people who look like them.

  • RogerBW

    Under this model, I think there are “normal people” and then there are “women” (or “black people” or whatever).

  • And that would be the discussion I have with my students ;). We go through an exercise where I make up a TV show about a new stockbroker, and ask them to picture that person. It gets across the point that a “person” in our culture is a straight, white, able-bodied, usually Christian man. Everyone else is an adjective-person.

  • Bluejay

    Just curious: Do you ever expand the options so that the character can be, say, a teacher, a politician, a book editor, a fashion designer, a stay-at-home spouse, an athlete, a TV host, and so on? To see if your students slot different people into different roles, and what the takeaway from that might be? (Perhaps that we tend to envision straight white men in positions with more power and prestige?) I totally agree that we tend to default to straight white men as “normal” or “neutral” in most of our pop culture stories; I just wonder whether your exercise, if it focuses only on one kind of job, makes that point unambiguously enough.

  • I picked stockbroker because it was fairly topical at the time. We do talk about other professions, that a show about nurses, for example, would likely have more women than a show about lawyers. But part of the point is that *unless* a text is about a group commonly associated with women or non-whites, it usually has a predominantly white male cast. If it doesn’t, if a show about doctors has more women than men, it is usually marketed as being about women doctors, not just doctors.

  • Bluejay

    I see, thanks.

    Here’s one I’ve been thinking about today: bands. We take it for granted that bands are mostly men; all-male bands are just “bands,” and the backing band for a female singer is just a “band.” Then today I stumbled on a video of a Jack White concert where his backing band was comprised entirely of women, and caught myself thinking “girl band” before realizing the qualifier is utterly unnecessary.

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