Friday, 6 February 2015

A Walk Among the Tombstones

It’s difficult not to write this film off as just another Liam Neeson action flick in which he tracks down the killers, kills them, saves his daughter or his niece or whatever, and it all ends happily. Thankfully, though, A Walk Among the Tombstones is very aware of this and does its best to stay away, but the temptation seemed too much.

Directed by Scott Frank and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes A Walk Among the Tombstones. Neeson stars in Scott Frank’s adaptation of Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name, opposite Dan Stevens (The Guest) and a few other big, burly, American men – but also a small child. While it attempts to subvert us, it falls into the habit of going with the old tried and tested formula that sees an alcoholic police officer make a mistake that poisons him with guilt, forcing him to become sober and quit his job – sort of. When Matthew Scudder (Neeson), now a Private Investigator, is approached by Howie (Nelson) who tells him his brother has a job offer for him, it’s difficult to see any other way this will go except Neeson will be his usual persistent self and bother people with his grisly voice until they tell him where to go. Kenny (Stevens) explain his situation to Matt – that his wife was kidnapped, extorted for money, then killed anyway. Scudder gets all sympathetic because he is divorced and has lost someone and agrees to take the job. 

The divorce is surprisingly never explored in the film. In fact, most plot points are thrown out as soon as they’re mentioned. Youngster TJ, adequately played by 19 year-old American X-Factor contestant, Brian “Astro” Bradley, is living in shelters, which prompts Scudder to offer the teen a job in what is turning out to be a very dangerous job – and we wonder why he’s divorced? Hardly dad material.  TJ’s passion for drawing is stressed then left to dry like a sock in the rain. There’s very little to get hooked on.

The two villains are supposed to be sinister and robotic, à la Spacey’s character John Doe in Se7en, but too often they let off emotion and uncertainty. As soon as Scudder raises his voice they whimper like scolded children, which just makes a mockery of them. We’re supposed to fear them, not leave to make a cup of tea every time they’re on screen. It’s more their actions than their personalities that offers up some tension – namely cutting up a few bodies after torturing them – pretty unimaginative but well executed in its timing and direction. A carrier bag full of guts is somehow creepier than seeing them strewn on the floor.

The story itself all seems to point towards a final twist. Will we meet his ex-wife? Was she murdered by these two? Is Kenny playing Scudder? Short answer – no. When this film could have been a very good thriller, it turned into a cheap action film offering up little in the way of scares and fingernail biting. A final fight scene wraps it all up nicely for Neeson and TJ who seem to walk, rather weirdly, into the sunset (not literally). Somewhere in the midst of all the snooping around and shunning, the pair seemed to become close, for no other reason than to finish on a high.

About three quarters of the way in it’s surprising how good this film is. The action, though sparse, is fast-paced and it’s easy to sympathise with the characters, despite being torturers, drug lords or drug users. A complete write-off turned out to be well acted too. Say what you want about Neeson but he knows his niche and he performs it well, and his upheld psyche is intriguing enough to keep us watching as he threatens to crumble at any moment. Dan Stevens is still showing promise as the next big action star, but I fear that he could go the way of Neeson and just churn out disguised rehashes.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is by no means a bad film, for the most part it’s good entertainment and teases depth but it’s just a shame that the payoff was equivalent to the aforementioned wet sock. Films that lead with the fact that they have Liam Neeson in them are becoming all too common, so perhaps it’s time for him to hang up his wet socks- I mean boots.

A Walk Among The Tombstones was promising but ultimately dug its own grave 3/5.


Jonny Naylor 

A Walk Among The Tombstones at CeX

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