IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 113 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Alcoholic NYPD detective Michael Scudder’s drink in a bar is interrupted by three guys coming in and shooting the bartender. He hunts them down on the streets, gun blazing. Nine years later, Scudder no longer drinks, has retired from the NYPD and now works as a Private Investigator. He’s approached by Peter Kristo, a junkie who wants Scudder to help his brother Kenny. Kenny offers him $20,000 to find the men that kidnapped and killed his wife, despite Kenny paying the ransom they requested. Matt figures out that Kenny is a drug trafficker and initially refuses to help him, but then changes his mind….
At first glance, A Walk Among The Tombstones [which isn’t a film that lies – people really do walk among tombstones as you can see] seems like your typical recent Liam Neeson fare, but it’s actually somewhat different. While there is a bit of action, it’s more of an old-style detective thriller, with Neeson playing a type of role we would normally associate with Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart, though to be honest his character, which was also essayed in 1986 in the middling thriller 8 Million Ways To Die by Jeff Bridges, is still basically the dour, dogged tough guy we are used to, while the film actually name-checking Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe is asking for trouble considering how great some of those old movies were. This one is very good for about a third and certainly holds the attention thereafter, though in the end it ends up being a bit ordinary and doesn’t really have enough spark or originality to make it stand out. Still, it’s a pleasure to have a film like this in the multiplexes, a film where the hero uses his brain more than his brawn, achieves more by questioning than fighting, and is even beaten up on occasions. And, in a part that was going to be played by Harrison Ford when Joe Carnahan almost made this film over a decade ago, Neeson is as effective as ever, though truth be told his New York accent isn’t too convincing and even a little jarring in places.
The film opens with a superbly crafted and very visceral shoot-out with excellent camerawork and use of sound, though if this seems like the beginning of another Taken-type film than you’re quickly proven wrong by the opening titles, where we see close-up images of two men raping a woman. Despite being very disturbing, especially the sight of the woman crying, the images, set against a white background, are oddly seductive. Even if much of its nasty events occur off-screen, A Walk Among The Tombstones is still defiantly adult stuff and much of the first half has a really powerful sense of evil as the killers prowl about, aided immensely by Carlos Rafael Rivera’s creepy scoring, while the playing of a tape recording of a rape proves that the imagination can be more disturbing than something you may see on-screen. It’s worth noting that A Walk Among The Tombstones has had a few seconds of a rape scene cut out to secure a ‘15’ rating, a strange decision by the studio considering the overall tone of the film. Director Scott Frank’s original cut, which gave Neeson’s character a partner, was actually a great deal longer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that comes out on Blu-ray, though considering the cut we have is perhaps overlong, I’m not sure it would be much better. In particular, there’s a streetwise homeless kid called T.J. [who wants to be a P.I.] who seems to come from another film and isn’t really believable. Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley from Earth To Echo is a good little actor though and his scenes with Neeson do have a kind of chemistry.
Frank maintains a quietly dark and suspenseful atmosphere for quite a while, and, while I could have done with the killers being revealed a bit later than they are, they are menacingly shot so you’re genuinely scared of them. Scudder’s investigation is always interesting and there’s a suicide which is very sudden, but the film dips a little around half way through as it becomes obvious that its story is actually quite simple and won’t really deviate from the norm. Still, Neeson gets in plenty of telephone action, which we all know he’s good at, and the final confrontation is good tough stuff. It also seems to interestingly emphasise the psychological over the physical with some interesting edits to earlier in Scudder’s life. There’s fine cutting, courtesy of editor Jill Savitt, throughout the film, such as a great montage where we hear the discovery of evidence but see the bad guys destroying some of that evidence, while cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. gives us lots of vivid shots in pouring rain in a film that looks great throughout, somewhat 70’s but with a slight 90’s sheen.
A Walk Among The Tombstones is well acted by all – Olafur Darri Olafsson is especially memorable as a creepy cemetery owner – but it’s let down by its script full of dialogue so generic that when somebody says something you can predict what the other persons’s going to say in response. It’s also pretty silly having a retired cop hero whose investigation skills leave tons of evidence: finger prints, fibres, DNA, etc. Nonetheless, I enjoyed A Walk Among The Tombstones. The murky world of villains everywhere you look is compelling and there are times when its genuinely disturbing, something which almost makes me wish it had gone further in that direction, as hard to watch as it would have been. If in the end it doesn’t really have enough to fully distinguish itself, it’s still a decent effort, and I hope we’ll be seeing Neeson’s Michael Scudder on our screen again.