A Walk Among the Tombstones

Movie Review #880

“A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES” IS BURDENED BY A SLOW PACE AND UNNECESSARY SUBPLOT, BUT ULTIMATELY EXCELS IN LIAM NEESON’S PERFORMANCE AND SOME TRULY SHOCKING MOMENTS.

★★★
By Red Stewart

walk_among_the_tombstones

Released September 19, 2014 (nationwide)
Crime, Drama, Mystery
Rated R (contains graphic violence, disturbing content, profanity, brief nudity)
113 minutes

Ever since “Se7en”, I’ve been waiting for another R-rated crime film that would match the gruesomeness and intensity of that thriller. “L.A. Confidential” and “Road to Perdition” came close, but neither Curtis Hanson nor Sam Mendes seemed as interested in fully exploring the vice of their worlds as David Fincher did with his John Doe character.

First-time director Scott Frank suffers from no such limitations, but it’s his amateur pacing and bloated script that ultimately prevent “A Walk Among the Tombstones” from achieving the heights a Lawrence Block novel adaptation deserves. Here, we have the pitch-perfect casting of Liam Neeson as alcoholic private eye Matt Scudder, who is hired by a drug trafficker to find the men who brutally murdered his wife. As he delves further into the mystery, Scudder realizes that these guys have a long history of killing and aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

While this sounds like the perfect premise for a tense neo-noir detective story, my aforementioned complaint about writer/director Frank’s pacing comes into play here. Scudder’s investigation into this dark world is consistently hampered by a stop-and-go narration that ends up robbing the film of any tension it builds up. I won’t say it’s completely “by the books” like many mainstream critics have been stating, but it is very procedural and dialogue-heavy. Luckily, this slowness dissipates after about the the first 40-45 minutes, but unfortunately “Tombstones” is hampered by yet a second problem from beginning to end; an unnecessary subplot involving Scudder’s relationship with a homeless black teen (and yes, I emphasize that he’s black because the kid speaks in jive 95% of the time). Whether it’s meant to inspire tears or laughter is beyond me since the tone in these scenes shifts frequently.

But of course, the main reason audiences want to see “Tombstones” is because of Liam Neeson, and I will say that this film is his to own. Those expecting another “Taken”-esque character will be surprised at the shift in personalites as Scudder is far from being an action hero. He’s world-weary and torn-apart, yet that hasn’t diminished his will to erase evil from this world. His attempts at sobering up seem more as an obligation to the world than of his own decision.

Ultimately, I do recommend “A Walk Among the Tombstones”. Despite feeling long at 1 hour 53 minutes and having a dumb subplot, there are some truly shocking moments in the story that Frank doesn’t shy away from. It’s about a man fighting against demons both internal and external, and when your leading man is Liam Neeson, you know you’ll have fun.

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