Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones


Looking back over Liam Neeson’s career since Taken turned him into an action hero one could argue that he’s basically made the same movie over and over. A vengeful individual in some sort of manly battle involving life and death. And, yes, that is a valid argument. But it also isn’t. 

See, while Neeson’s films have all been pushed the same way, they actually haven’t all been that similar (both in tone and quality). From the outstanding The Grey too the awful Taken 2 Neeson has basically played around with the theme of the bad ass, elder hero in a variety of ways. Now they haven’t always worked, but one thing remains consistent: Neeson is awesome. That pretty much describes A Walk Among the Tombstones perfectly. It doesn’t always work, but Neeson is awesome.

A Walk Among the Tombstones
Director: Scott Frank
Rated: R
Release Date: September 18, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones is adapted from a novel by the same name, and it shows. Far less the action movie the trailers make it out to be the film is more of a mystery thriller. After Kenny Kristo’s (Dan Stevens) wife goes missing he calls in Matt Scudder (Neeson), a less than reputable P.I. to investigate. It turns out that Kenny is a drug trafficker and thus can’t really go to the cops when the people who ransomed his wife return her chopped up into tiny bits. Scudder, an ex-alcholic ex-cop, decides to take up the case as he determines that the two guys behind the kidnapping are actually serial rapists and murderers. During his investigation Sudder befriends a young homeless boy, TJ (Astro) who helps him understand computers and cellphones. 

You’re rolling your eyes already at that, but the film is set in 1999, right before the dawn of the millennium, so a man of Neeson’s age not understanding or liking computers is a bit more believable. Aside from that though the plot doesn’t hold together all too well. The mystery unfolds pretty unevenly, as Scudder lucks his way into finding the twisted duo who are kidnapping and torturing women. It makes for a first half of the film that feels forced, especially the TJ character who adds an awkward buddy cop element into what is otherwise a very dark film.

This film is extremely dark. Torture, rape and murder are all discussed if not shown and the violence almost reaches slasher film levels. It’s actually a good thing for the most part. When the film is working on its darker side it actually starts to kick with the movie’s ending ratcheting up the tension very well. Neeson helps out a lot here as he gravels through his performance and lifts a limping screenplay along. Director Scott Frank can definitely do dark as his previous film, The Lookout, showed us, but when it comes to the rest of the movie he’s flat. Scudder’s budding relationship with TJ flounders for most of the movie and Kenny’s character is sorely mishandled.

That’s too bad as Dan Stevens deserves better roles. Here he’s simply trying to out gravely-voice Liam Neeson, which is an nearly impossible feat. Meanwhile Astro, who is evidently a child rapper, seemed to be learning how to act throughout the film. His performance varies from unbearable to descent throughout the film. Just one more reason the whole surrogate father thing doesn’t play out so well. You know, that and the violence and death visited upon the kid throughout the film.

It must be said that the film’s direction is pretty creative. Frank weaves emotional issues into action sequences well, if not a bit heavy handedly. For instance at the end of the film the AA’s 12 steps are read over Neeson’s reawakened quest for justice; the film freeze framing as the dialog adds an extra layer to the action. It doesn’t save the film, and it certainly doesn’t make it great, but the extra push of drama separates it from other low-budget action fare. There’s at least  bit of something interesting going on here.

So Neeson has managed to do it again. While taking on a film that seems the same as all his previous, he deviates slightly. Instead of the straight action movie we get a dark thriller full of truly brutal violence. What we don’t get is something truly on par with a man of Neeson’s skill and ability. I’d like to see the actor actually challenge himself with a role soon because right now A Walk Among the Tombstones is far too much like a walk in the park for him. 

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.