Published on September 19th, 2014 | by Ian M. Woodington0
A Walk Among the Tombstones
A Walk Among the Tombstones stars Liam Neeson as former cop, and former alcoholic, Matthew Scudder in this adaptation of the tenth novel in Lawrence Block’s long-running series. Set in 1999, amid the Y2K scare, Scudder operates just outside of the law as an unlicensed private investigator. Approached by a fellow AA member, he is tasked with finding the men responsible for kidnapping and murdering the wife of a local drug trafficker. Along the way, he receives help from homeless teen T.J. (played, with admirable restraint in a role easy to overdo, by newcomer Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley) and discovers that the two men he is investigating have killed before, and will do so again.
This is exactly the type of movie that I find myself drawn to, a brooding, hard-edged film-noir, but what stops me from enjoying it more and rating it higher is that right from the opening frames, Tombstones, unlike last year’s Prisoners, which defied all my expectations, doesn’t strive to do anything more than to satisfy the requirements of its genre and lean heavily on the performance of its lead.
That being said, it is another fantastic performance from Neeson and, still sporting that questionable American accent, he brings real weight to the character of Scudder. Don’t expect to see a tour-de-force the likes of Denzel Washington battling alcoholism in Flight, but it is refreshing to see these types of characters humanized and played straight in roles that have previously been over-the-top and laughably romanticized.
Another highlight is the relationship between Scudder and T.J, something that from the outset seems a cliché and had the potential to detract from the plot, it is however surprisingly well-constructed. One scene in particular between them is a stand-out as we see Scudder’s reaction to finding out that T.J. has been carrying a presumably stolen firearm. I will refrain from ruining the punchline, but it is a rare piece of frank dialogue and is deservedly shocking in its delivery.
Where A Walk Among the Tombstones unfortunately falls short is in its lack of subtlety, through a heavy-handed score and, more importantly, a bloated running time. More times than I would have liked, I found myself asking, “Is this scene necessary, or relevant?” Less would have been so much more, especially in the case of the two antagonists, who are set up as being formidable psychopaths for our anti-hero, they are instantly deflated through a single moment that depicts the normality of what we assume is their morning routine. Though it’s not unheard of that the most violent of criminals lead ordinary lives, the tongue-in-cheek nature of the scene does nothing to intensify the fear and dread we are supposed to feel toward these men.
Fans of Liam Neeson should be pleased, but what we’re given here is a solid first act and dialogue that ranges from good to great, but ultimately a predictable, over-long, paint-by-numbers effort. Sure, it hits all the right notes atmospherically, but I can’t expect that it will be more or less memorable than any of the other recent thriller entries in Neeson’s oeuvre (anyone remember 2011’s Unknown?). Between this and knowing that a third Taken is on the way, I now find myself longing for another great dramatic turn from him along the lines of Five Minutes of Heaven, or Kinsey.