A Walk Among The Tombstones(2014)
- RatedNC16 /GenreThriller
A Walk Among Tombstones
Since the wildly successful ‘Taken’ movies, Liam Neeson has been highly sought after as a brooding anti-hero with a dark shady past.
His special skills are brought out again in his latest leading man role, playing an ex-NYPD cop and recovering alcoholic turned private detective who is called upon to help find a serial kidnapper and murderer of women.
Based upon the crime fiction novel of the same title by writer Lawrence Block, Neeson plays Matthew Scudder, one of Block’s most popular and enduring characters.
The film starts off with a flashback scene in whitewashed tones, at a time when Scudder was still a cop, drinking on duty and caught unwittingly in the middle of an armed robbery turned gun battle shootout at a bar.
This dramatic opening scene helps set the backstory for the lead character. The action in this scene is also fast paced and relentless, directed with such precision that you can really feel the violence and pain, and it isn’t gratuitous.
Scudder is a damaged man, his soul tormented with guilt for what he did that fateful day, and this is very much a story about his search for redemption.
A fellow member at Scudder’s AA meeting links him up with his drug dealer brother, Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens), whose wife was sexually abused and killed by a pair of serial kidnappers.
Kristo wants to exact revenge on this wife’s killers, and engages Scudder to help with this. Although reluctant to get involved at first, Scudder is persuaded by Kristo’s persistence and the immense cruelty of the crime.
The rest of the movie is a crime investigation procedural drama, as Scudder tracks down clues like an old bloodhound, and even enlists a homeless boy, TJ, as an apprentice. Scudder’s friendship with TJ develops into a pseudo father-son relationship as the hardnosed detective takes the boy under his wing.
‘Taken’ meets ‘Prisoners’ at the halfway mark
Many of the scenes have Liam Neeson scouring real neighborhoods and locations in New York, talking to people and piecing together clues, and this is punctuated with action and sudden jerks of violence that help breakup the monotony of detective work.
With good marksmanship and combat skills, Scudder mostly gains the upper hand in these conflicts and situations. He is however not entirely infallible, as he does get hurt badly in a few unfortunate encounters.
The action in this movie is nowhere near as exciting as that of ‘Taken’, nor the moral dilemma as strong as in ‘Prisoners’, the much acclaimed crime investigation drama also involving serial kidnappers, which ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ will be widely compared with.
For instance, first-time director Scott Frank – who has previously written screenplays for a wide range of successful genre movies, such as ‘Minority Report’, ‘Marley & Me’, and most recently ‘The Wolverine’ – paints the drug dealers out to be helpless victims to be empathised with, and Kristo to be a grieving husband out for revenge – and doesn’t explore the moral complexities of these characters and their situations. If the various characters had been better developed, and moral ambiguity of both Scudder and the drug dealers delved into further, the movie would have had more depth.
The villains also lacked intellect and flair, and came off as rather cliche, when compared to the likes of, say, Hannibal Lector. We would have loved to have gained some insight into their psyche, or have been given a hint to their backstories, but their characters were mostly one-dimensional.
A Matthew Scudder franchise in the making?
In spite of the movie’s shortcomings, it does work well on some levels. Director Frank displays finesse, has a strong visual sense of how a camera moves within space, and the few action and suspense sequences are delivered excellently.
With a thumbs up from the author Lawrence Block himself, this movie should also be embraced by Liam Neeson’s newfound legion of fans. It will be no surprise if this turns into a new franchise of Matthew Scudder crime mystery stories made into films.
‘A Walk Among Tombstones’ opens in cinemas 18 September