A good, but not great thriller
Author: Liam Fitz-Gerald
Director Scott Frank has kicked off the fall movie season with his latest film A Walk Among the Tombstones: a good, but not great crime thriller. This is the second film adaptation of crime novelist Lawrence Block’s series revolving around the unlicensed private investigator Matthew Scudder—the first attempt 8 Million Ways to Die was unanimously hailed by film critics as a terrible movie. In the case of A Walk Among the Tombstones, however, despite some complaints, the director, cast, and crew have gotten a few things right.
Set in New York City in 1999, Liam Neeson stars as the gruff, no-nonsense, sober, ex-cop-turned-PI Scudder. Haunted by a tragic accident during his NYPD career, Scudder makes his living as a private detective and frequently attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
He’s soon pulled into the world of drug kingpin Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens), whose wife has been horrifically murdered, despite a ransom Kristo paid to her captors. Kristo wants Scudder to hunt her killers down, and after an initial refusal, Scudder agrees to help after hearing a tape-recording of Kristo’s wife being tortured. Descending into the NYC underworld and forming a friendship with a homeless, yet resourceful, young teenager named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), Scudder finds himself on the trail of two monstrous psychopaths and needs all the help he can get to stop them.
Neeson is definitely at the top of his game in this film. While playing a role similar to his parts in the Taken series and Non-Stop, the action is toned down, and the audience gets a more reflective and thoughtful Neeson. Indeed, the film evokes memories of Neeson’s refined dramatic roles in movies such as Kingdom of Heaven, K-19: The Widowmaker and Gangs of New York. Indeed, some of the best scenes in the film are Neeson’s interaction with Bradley, a rising young star who portrays a street-smart, headstrong, young teenager.
As the film is set in the 1990s, the producers went to extravagant lengths to portray a time that seems very different from today. People carry walkmans, the Internet’s still new, and everyone’s talking about Y2K. However, the film captures the gritty side of street life in NYC, creating an atmosphere of abject uncertainty.
If crime thrillers can be divided into great (The Silence of the Lambs), good (Se7en, Insomnia) and awful (Saw II, et al), then A Walk Among the Tombstones is good, and is kept from being great for a few reasons.
First, the audience is acquainted with the antagonists rather early on, causing them to lose some of their terrifying aura and mystery. Furthermore, these villains turn out to be rather generic and, frankly, rather forgettable. Sometimes it feels like they portray caricatures of psychopaths.
A second problem is questionable filming techniques. Without spoilers, later in the movie, there’s a narration during a key scene that’s just awkward and unnecessary. Finally, the continued Y2K and 1990s references just become irritating and detract from the film’s atmosphere.
This film is worth seeing if you’re expecting a good crime thriller with some decent acting and cinematography. Don’t go in expecting greatness though: you’ve been forewarned.