A Walk Among the Tombstones is a new crime thriller from screenwriter and director Scott Frank. The film is adapted from a series of novels by Lawrence Block. Liam Neeson stars as Matt Scudder, an ex-cop turned private eye who’s hired by a high level drug dealer to find a pair of ruthless kidnappers who, despite receiving the ransom money, proceed to torture, kill, and mutilate their victims.
A Walk Among the Tombstones is set in 1999 amidst the anxiety preceding the onset of Y2K. The tone of the film is creepy with a morbid sense of foreboding both of which contribute to the inherent terror of the graphic subject matter. In order to stress the spine tingling nature of the movie the director uses plenty of overhead shots to give viewers a unique visual perspective as well as a feeling of helplessness.
In recent years actor Liam Neeson has starred in a number of action flicks such as The A Team (2010), The Grey (2012), and the popular Taken series (2009 and 2012). Although the grizzled alcoholic ex-cop he plays in A Walk Among the Tombstones is a popular genre stereotype Neeson breathes new life into the character. When the private eye is asked what makes a good detective he replies simply, “A strong bladder.” After a brief pause he adds that success in his career is mostly a matter of blind luck. Later on in the film, when someone describes him as brave he responds with, “I wasn’t brave. I was just drunk.”
One major problem in A Walk Among the Tombstones is the fact that aside from the lead character, the rest of the film’s supporting characters are one dimensional and lack depth. Viewers aren’t given a sense of who these people really are or why they do what they do. The thriller is populated by shallow and stereotypical characters such as the sadistic kidnappers/killers, the helpless women whose sole function seems to be as victims, and a street kid/wannabe detective sidekick.
Although viewers are witness to several heinous acts committed by the killers these two men remain mysterious figures throughout the film. Besides the nature of their relationship, the ulterior motive behind their crimes, aside from money and sadistic pleasure, is never made fully clear. Why is it that even after they receive the ransom they not only murder their victims but go a step further and savagely butcher the bodies? Why do they only target the wives, girlfriends, or children of drug dealers? Are the murderous pair really ex cops who believe that drug traffickers need to be punished and deserve what they get? The film provides no clear answers.
Another flaw in A Walk Among the Tombstones occurs in the big shoot out scene near the end of the movie. During this particular action sequence the filmmaker chooses to draw attention to Scudder’s alcoholic past by using audio featuring didactic rhetoric from Alcoholics Anonymous. In this sequence the director also uses a number of unnecessary freeze frames as well as slow motion shots which don’t meld well with the rest of the film.
Despite its problems A Walk Among the Tombstones is an effective thriller which is guaranteed to have audiences on the edge of their seats. Liam Neeson delivers an intelligent and nuanced performance as a flawed but capable action hero. Although the movie features plenty of violence when compared to recent so called torture porn films
A Walk Among the Tombstones demonstrates a certain degree of restraint in terms of its depiction of the more grisly and disturbing elements of its subject matter.
A Walk Among the Tombstones is in theatres now.