A Walk Among the Tombstones Review
It is hard for me to get excited for Liam Neeson films anymore. It seems ever since his "Taken" days, Neeson has played the same character in every movie. It almost seems like he wears the same outfits in every movie he is in these days. When every character Neeson appears as is just a Bryan Mills knock-off its hard to forget your biases, its hard to open your mind, its hard to mend wounds if they keep opening again and again and again. I did not have a ton of desire to see "A Walk Among the Tombstones," especially after the atrocity that was "Non-Stop" earlier this year. I went in expecting the worse possible thing and I wondered why I would even waste my time.
As the film opens, I thought Neeson was back in Mills mode. His character, Matthew Scudder, sits down at a bar and has several drinks as it gets stuck-up by thieves. Scudder, being a police officer, has a shootout with the thieves. It was an event that left an innocent civilian dead, which leads Scudder to leave the force. My bad feeling began to settle in as I watched this scene unfold. Sure, its a well-staged scene, but it feels just as limp and lifeless as all the other Neeson shootouts I have seen within the last three years. I was ready to write this one off, until the title sequence began. As the opening titles begin, we slowly watch as a woman with duct-tape over her mouth is raped by two men in slow-motion. It is a emotionally deprived scene, and once I saw it, I knew this was not going to be the typical Neeson movie. This was going to be a blunt instrument, something with a very sharp edge. When it was going to cut, it was probably going to cut deep.
"A Walk Among The Tombstones" maybe a familiar thriller, as there have already been plenty of thrillers involving rapists and ransom money. It doesn't really matter, based upon a novel by Lawrence Block, "A Walk Among The Tombstones" is a smart thriller. It treats its audience with care and with intelligence throughout. It also shines from a abnormal Neeson performance, whose Scudder isn't exactly a master of every skill, but he is smart and he's dangerous, which makes him intoxicating to watch. I also liked that the villains of the movie are smart, and gave a feeling that at any moment, anything could happen. Honestly, anything does happen. Just as you think the movie is going to end in the clichéd cemetery in a shoot-out in the rain. The movie keeps going, keeps selling believable drama, still tries to thrill you. The best thing a thriller could do for its audience is actually thrill. Me personally? I was very much thrilled.
After the opening sequence is done, we learn that Scudder has now become an unlicensed private eye. He is contacted by Peter Kristo (Boyd Holbrook) whose brother Kenny (Dan Stevens) has a desperate problem. It is a problem that he can't take to the police and it involves the slow-motion raping we witnessed. Kenny's wife was taken at ransom, and even though Kenny paid on time, the kidnappers killed Kenny's wife in the most horrific of ways. Kenny enlists the help of Scudder to track down the kidnappers. So yeah, its a story we have heard before. But the smart screen writing and the smart characters make up for the familiar territory.
The film also benefits from a runway of amazing performances. Watching Neeson play his type-cast character over the years, I almost forgot how effective he can be with a sharp script. Sure, there are moments of his usual character come out, but overall its worth it. The work by Holbrook and Stevens is also quite effective, even though both don't have a ton of screen-time. In movies like these though, it boils down to how rich the villains are. I have to give a ton of credit to both David Harbour and Adam David Thompson for bringing to life two believably creepy adversaries.
The style director Scott Frank lays down is addicting enough to sit through and I think genre fans of thrillers and film noir will be overly-satisfied by this splendid, little throw-back. I hope Neeson ventures into territory like this soon, as the film could lead to a possible sequel. Overall, I enjoyed this one and if you are as jaded by Neeson recent run as I am, I say you have nothing to worry about.
FINAL GRADE: B