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New Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)
Director: Scott Frank
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Brian "Astro" Bradley, David Harbour, Albert David Thompson, Danielle Rose Russell, Sebastian Roche,
A Walk Among the Tombstones has a corker of an opening scene, and it leads to one of the movie's best shots. Set in New York City, 1991, the movie opens with off-duty police officer Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) ordering a few drinks (for free) inside a bar. Three thugs barge in and shoot the bartender in the heart. A brutal and hard-hitting action scene follows as Scudder chases them out, killing two of them, and shooting the third in the leg. He chases the injured perp toward a flight of stairs and shoots him again.
It is here where the aforementioned shot takes place. You'll know which one it is. The opening credits play over it. Carlos Rafael Rivera's music plays its sinister beat, allowing the shot to cast an almost bewitching spell. It pretty much sets the tone for the movie, and if you don't think it does, then what happens right after certainly will (I warn you, it isn't pleasant at all).
A Walk Among the Tombstones doesn't waste any time announcing what kind of movie it's going to be. This is a relentlessly dark and gloomy thriller, and one that some viewers may feel to be a little distasteful. The villains of the piece are two thrill-killing, ex-DEA agents who kidnap, torture, and murder women who are related in some way to drug dealers (wives, daughters, etc.). After finishing with them, they chop up their bodies and leave them in individually wrapped packages. Perhaps the most unsettling scene in the movie involves a man opening the trunk of an abandoned car and finding what we at first assume are little packages of drugs. Then the man sticks his knife into one of them, and...well, it's not a pretty picture.
For those of you with strong stomachs, however, this is an effective and very creepy thriller, carried by what is easily one of Liam Neeson's best performances in a long while. Unlike his recent bad-ass roles, his Matthew Scudder doesn't carry much heat, would rather talk his way out of a nasty situation rather than resort to violence, and frequently attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in his spare time (the 12 step program is incorporated, rather beautifully, during the film's riveting and grueling climax). Scudder is a haunted and world-weary man, and Neeson has the right set of skills to bring the character to life.
Eight years after the film's opening (and just a few months before the whole Y2K scare), Scudder is now retired from the force and works as an unlicensed PI. He's approached by a junkie and fellow AA-member named Peter Kristo (Boyd Holbrook), who asks him to meet with his drug-trafficking brother Kenny (Dan Stevens). Kenny tells Matt that his wife was recently kidnapped and held for ransom. He paid the ransom, but the kidnappers killed her anyway, and now Kenny wants him to find the men responsible and bring them to him. At first, he says no, but after Kenny plays a tape the killer's left him of his wife's murder, he agrees to take the case.
His first lead is a weirdo named Loogan (Olafur Darri Olafsson), a cemetery groundskeeper who was involved with another abduction that occurred some time before. Although he is in the movie for only a brief time, Olafsson is very good as the troubled Loogan, and his final scene is handled so deftly by writer and director Scott Frank that it might have had a more lasting impression had the trailers not given it away (if you haven't seen the trailers, and want to see the movie, then please don't). He's certainly more interesting than the main killers of the piece, who are unquestionably frightening but not well developed as characters.
Scudder also meets a very smart, health-conscious homeless kid named TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley), whom he befriends after TJ uses his knowledge of the Internet to gain information for him (Scudder is something of a technophobe, using payphones and microfilms instead of cellphones and the Internet). The relationship that forms between the two of them brings some light to the aggressively dark material. Young Bradley more than holds his own against Neeson, and has two very well-written scenes with him. The first is when Scudder finds a gun in the kid's backpack and convinces TJ to get rid of it, and the second is a scene set inside a hospital, where Scudder reveals to TJ what happened during the shooting in 1991 that caused him to give up his badge.
Based on a novel by Lawrence Block (the tenth in a series of novels), A Walk Among the Tombstones isn't anything new in terms of plot, but Scott Frank handles the familiar material quite skillfully. For starters, he brings some restraint to the violence, allowing the movie to focus more on atmosphere and suspense instead of turning it into a mindless torture porn flick (which it could have become, in lesser hands). And with the help of ace cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., he creates a surprisingly elegant looking movie. The shadowy, rain-drenched, graffiti-laced streets of Hell's Kitchen haven't looked this good in a long time.
The movie does make a couple of missteps. First of all, the pace is quite sluggish, especially in the beginning. The scene where the killers spot their next victim (a 14-year old girl walking her dog) is handled in such a wrongheaded way that it takes on a creepy-for-all-the-wrong-reasons sort of vibe. And the scenes where the movie places the 14-year old girl (who is seen again later in the movie, alive, but not necessarily in one piece) in jeopardy are disquieting and more than a little unpleasant.
While it certainly isn't for all tastes, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a stylish and disturbingly effective thriller. It may not add anything new to the noir genre, but it at least shows affection for it (Sam Spade is mentioned twice in the movie), and it offers Neeson the chance to play a character who doesn't spend over half the movie beating the crap out of bad guys (Taken this most certainly is not). This is a graphic movie, but if you have the stomach for it, then it is worth a look. If not, don't say I didn't warn you.
A well-earned R for graphic violence, disturbing images, profanity, brief nudity
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
If you plan to see the movie, then it's better to save the trailer for later (terrific though it is).
Other Thoughts on A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)! :D
- The Maze Runner and A Walk Among the Tombstones - Reason.com
More teen dystopia, and some middling Liam Neeson crime action.
- A Walk Among the Tombstones Movie Review (2014) | Roger Ebert
- Review: 'Walk Among the Tombstones' runs right into torture porn zone - LA Times
'A Walk Among the Tombstones' an old-school thriller starring Liam Neeson with a modern, despicable emphasis on violent imagery.