At one point in A Walk Among The Tombstones, we find Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) on the phone with the kidnapper of a young girl, threateningly and condescendingly informing him that his plans will not work. You might say we’ve seen him in a similar situation before. Oh wait…we’ve seen him in the exact same situation before. However, as I watched this sequence, the thought hardly crossed my mind. That’s a testament to how incredible of an action star Neeson has become over the past few years. No matter how generic the film, we completely invest in him, and know that whoever is on the other end of that phone is about to be on the receiving end of some hardcore justice.
The story takes place in 1999 and centers on the aforementioned Matt Scudder, a former beat cop who after a horrible accident resides as an off the books private eye. Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens), a wealthy drug trafficker (he doesn’t like the other word), enlists Scudder to find the two men who kidnapped and brutally murdered his wife, even after he gave them the ransom they demanded. As Scudder investigates, he befriends a young boy (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley) who is down on his luck without a home or family, and ultimately uncovers the sadistic culprits of a series of female kidnappings, all while dealing with his own personal demons.
It’s all pretty standard issue detective movie stuff, and unfortunately, writer/director Scott Frank dosen’t quite have enough flair to make things feel truly stylistic. Don’t get me wrong, the film certainly isn’t badly directed, in fact, the whole thing has a very palpable sense of grit that makes everything have quite a bit more impact. However, it just never really sets in. While some scenes in this movie are just fantastic, achieving exactly what we want to see in this type of movie, others are pretty damn sterile. The sheer amount of montages of Liam Neeson intently walking down the street in this film are off the charts.
What makes it connect are the performances by Liam Neeson, and his very sound supporting cast. Neeson has proven time and time again to be an absolute force of nature in these kinds of roles, and here, where his character is given a little more depth than normal, he especially shines. Being a world class actor, he brings the gravity necessary so that we instantly buy into his anguish, and believe that he is one hundred percent capable of anything. When other action stars threaten their enemies, it’s almost giggle worthy for me, but when Neeson does it, I don’t just fear for the other character, but I’m worried he’s actually going to kill the actor in the middle of the fight. As for the supporting cast, Dan Stevens is cold and callused as a man who has just lost everything, but has to hold it all in due to his position in life, David Harbour is fantastically creepy and just over the top enough as the more vocal of the two kidnappers, and in a surprisingly good turn, Brian Bradley (a child rapper…don’t get me started) actually has some great scenes with Neeson where he actually holds his own. It’s one of the more effective man/kid relationships I’ve seen in a film of this type.
I must caution you, do not go into this film expecting endless amounts of action. While it is there, and for the most part, it’s extremely brutal and impactful (with some awesomely effective sound design on the guns), the sequences are very few and far between. This is a detective film, through and though, meaning that most of it is interrogation and investigation. While it’s certainly a nice change of pace, it can definitely get slow from time to time.
Overall, this is a completely serviceable neo-nior film. The pacing is anemic, often times making the whole film feel a touch aimless, but when it’s good. it’s very good, with solid action moments and a palpable sense of menace. If you’re a fan of Neeson, definitely check it out, as this is one of the best performances he’s ever given in one of his action roles, just don’t expect Non-Stop. Keep ’em coming Liam.