Liam Neeson’s ‘Tombstones’ not a walk to remember



Liam Neeson’s ‘Tombstones’ not a walk to remember

By Film Critic Josh Weitzel

After actor Liam Neeson’s formulaic performances in critically panned, but financially successful action flicks such as “Taken” and “Non-Stop,” his new role in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is a welcome change of pace. Instead of punching and shooting his way to the finish line, he plays a somber private eye. Unfortunately, his performance is not strong enough to save the lackluster story. 

The film is adapted from a series of crime novels written by Lawrence Block based on Neeson’s character, Matthew Scudder. Writer and director Scott Frank, who wrote the screenplay for “Get Shorty” and “Minority Report,” adapted the novels for the screen. 

The film is set in New York City in 1999. Neeson plays the protagonist Scudder, a disgraced, alcoholic ex-cop who now works as an unlicensed private detective. Drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) hires Scudder to find his wife’s killers after a botched kidnapping and ransom fiasco. Scudder teams up with a young homeless boy named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), whom he takes under his wing to solve the mystery. Scudder runs around the city, conducting routine detective work, questioning witnesses, following suspects and researching the kidnappings. 

The mystery itself is rather straightforward and not very suspenseful as the villains conveniently fall right into Scudder’s lap as the film rushes to the climax. 

Some of the violence is rather gratuitous. The villains, a pair of killers and rapists, commit horrific acts that overshadow some of the plot. The pair is revealed as guilty early on, and watching them commit these crimes is unbearable. The film offers glimpses into the lives of the men, their crimes and the implications of serious mental illness. They are not the only villains, though. When Scudder tracks and interrogates a third suspect and realizes he is guilty, the suspect promptly walks off of the rooftop on which he is standing. It is a surprising moment that delivers on thrills promised in the film’s trailer, but the construction of the overall scene in the actual film leaves much to be desired. 

Thankfully, Neeson’s character manages to keep the film captivating. He is a deeply flawed character with a dark past. It is nice to see Neeson take on something other than a mindless action film, even if the final act results in brutal violence. The action scenes are not hard-hitting, but strong editing keeps it entertaining. 

Another nice surprise is the addition of TJ. He is an intriguing and tenacious character who helps emotionally develop Scudder. The budding father-son relationship is one of the most entertaining aspects of the film. 

Although the film isn’t technically brilliant, the cinematography is immersive. Symmetrical framing and an interesting mixture of high- and low-contrast lighting give the film a unique look. The city itself looks exquisite, not least because the film was shot on location in New York. The opening credit sequence is hugely impressive, using elegant camera work and editing to create an intimate scene that sets the tone for the film. The look and feel of the film’s imagery draws from 1970s noir classics such as “Dirty Harry” or “The Long Goodbye.” 

While “A Walk Among the Tombstones” attempts to distinguish itself with stylish visuals and a grim villain, it relies on too many traditional tropes to set itself apart from the rest of the pack. The performances and camerawork are highlights, but lackluster storytelling leaves the film a mixed bag.