Directed by Scott Frank
Starring Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour
Liam Neeson once again plays a terse, gravelly-voiced character with a dark past and a “particular set of skills” in A Walk Among The Tombstones. This time it is as the PI Matthew Scudder, long time fictional creation of author Lawrence Block, and subject of a host of books spanning the ’70s to the 2000s, including one previous appearance on the big screen in 1986 (8 Million Ways To Die – with a screenplay by no less than Oliver Stone). This incarnation is a grim and harsh take on noir, that revels in the dark underbelly while not romanticising it, making for a solid thriller.
Besides a brief opening coda set in 1991 where the audience sees a drunken NYPD detective Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) engaged in a gunfight with three armed robbers, the film is set in 1999 where a now sober Matthew Scudder works as an unlicensed private investigator. Due to his unofficial status of doing favours for people in returns for “gifts”, this often sees him dealing with criminal elements. It is little surprise then when Scudder finds himself approached by a drug trafficker to investigate the kidnapping of his wife. As Scudder searches he comes across a trail of grisly murders involving women connected to drug dealers, and finds himself racing against the clock before another is murdered.
The world of A Walk Among The Tombstones is a surprisingly grim reality. Be warned: there are some horrific acts of violence recounted in this film, perpetrated by the two serial killers. Here those acts are made more terrifying by director Scott Frank’s refusal to show these as a baroque spectacle such as would be the case in shows such as Hannibal, American Horror Story, or even CSI. Instead he relies on the audiences imagination and foley work to produce some visceral results. It is brutal, unforgiving, and at times sordid, but it feels appropriate for this criminal underworld that Scudder inhabits.
Neeson is an appropriate match for the character of Scudder. He radiates cynicism and stoicism as he wrestles with the character’s inner demons, giving occasional flashes of gallows humour. A character that would prefer to talk or think his way out of a bad situation, but isn’t afraid to fight when cornered. Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley also does well as the street urchin TJ, a reoccurring character from the novels. For a character that should feel contrived and trite (and whose introduction points to the serial ambitions of this film), Bradley somehow manages to ground the role by nailing his performance.
A surprisingly strong thriller steeped in the grimy noir elements of the criminal underbelly it explores, A Walk Among The Tombstones has enough grit to separate itself from the herd. Not a perfect movie, but with enough style and flair to mark a good starting place for this reiteration of Matthew Scudder.