Movie Review: “A Walk Among the Tombstones”

Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Adam David Thompson
Scott Frank

It’s not often that there’s a movie set at the turn of the millennium or a truly engaging film released during the limbo months between blockbuster seasons, but Scott Frank’s “A Walk Among the Tombstones” delivers on both counts.

Liam Neeson Stars as Matt Scudder, a former NYPD detective who used to have a very unhealthy habit of chasing booze with as much passion as he chased bad guys. The two intersected with tragic results when he took a booth at his favorite dive just as two thugs were robbing the place, blowing away the bartender in the process. What follows is a shootout that grabs you by the throat and leaves Scudder reexamining his life.

Flash forward to 1999, where we find a clean and sober Scudder. He’s traded in his police title (but still holds on to the badge) for a private eye shingle. Fresh out of an AA meeting, Scudder is approached by drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) whose wife was recently kidnapped and murdered. Scudder is a bit conflicted working with the yuppie junior drug kingpin, but forty grand helps ease his inner turmoil. Just as he’s had enough of Kristo and his business, a young girl (Danielle Rose Russell) is abducted by the kidnappers and Scudder goes all-in on finding them and making sure no one is taken again.

With all due respect to the dozen or so guys sharing the latest “Expendables” marquee, Liam Neeson is the poster child for AARP badasses. However, it would be a crime to confuse “A Walk Among the Tombstones” with “Taken in the Cemetery.” Based on Lawrence Block’s series of novels, Neeson’s Scudder is more than just a guy with a particular set of skills. He’s a broken man seeking redemption and living life one day at a time. Although taking great pains to stay true to the book, Frank subtly uses the Y2K frenzy to illustrate the film’s tagline, “People are afraid of all the wrong things.” And we’re reminded from the opening credits that we should be very afraid of kidnappers Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson). They’re as calculating as they are sadistic and force Scudder to go far outside his comfort zone to catch them.

It may be hard for some to remember a time where dialup access was the most popular way of getting online, but Frank hammers home a moment in time where the information age had its first big scare. Scudder’s technophobic ways allow him to reluctantly adopt an artistic, internet-savvy sidekick in the form of T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley of “The X-Factor”). The homeless teen with a serious disease helps Scudder gather info on the two killers, and the duo gains a healthy respect for one another in the process.

What’s most engaging about “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is that it borrows more from the gumshoes of the past than the current generation of police procedurals reigning over network TV. It’s one part Sam Spade and one part Jim Rockford. “Tombstones” is full of noir clichés, from the long static shots, to the implied torture of the victims. Sometimes those shots can go a bit too long, causing the 114-minute running time to drag in places. Some of that time would’ve been better spent developing the characters of Ray and Albert, but it’s hard to take your eyes off Neeson even when he lacks the invulnerability of his “Taken” past.


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