A Walk Among the Tombstones
2014, R, 113 min. Directed by Scott Frank. Starring Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook, Adam David Thompson, Brian Bradley, Sebastian Roché, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 19, 2014
Liam Neeson has taken to shooting at bad guys again. That’s not in itself news, nor are the by turns glum and grim facial expressions permanently affixed to his character in this slow-burning adaptation of a novel in Lawrence Block’s popular Matthew Scudder series. As Neeson plays him, Scudder is an alcoholic, former NYPD cop, and current unlicensed private shamus, in that order. He alternates his time between AA meetings and hanging out at his favorite Hell’s Kitchen all-night diner, while waiting for the next case to turn up. One quickly does, involving – spoiler here but the reveal comes early into the film – a pair of psychopathic ex-DEA agents (Harbour and Thompson) who get their jollies chopping up drug traffickers’ girlfriends, wives, and daughters. With A Walk Among the Tombstones, the names have been changed but the story’s all too familiar. Speaking of which, Taken 3 is on its way.
Scudder is a throwback, though, in multiple layers, to the private eyes of yore, saddled with a hard-boiled, noirish pall of regret and whiskey. Although A Walk Among the Tombstones is set in 1999 – the Y2K bugaboo is all over the headlines – literary and film antecedents, such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, are mentioned by name, and director Scott Frank, working from his own screenplay, makes the most of his antihero’s inherently Luddite tendencies. Turns out that tracking serial killers is a lot tougher without an iPhone or a working knowledge of the Internet.
Instead, Scudder enlists the help of a homeless, Web-savvy street urchin (Bradley), which brings to the character an attempt at self-redemption as well as a half-tug at the heartstrings of the audience – both to little effect. Tombstones is less homage than a cliched retread of the tried and true. Like this post-booze ex-cop, we’ve already been here and done that, to death.