Movie Review: “A Walk Among the Tombstones” – Neeson Goes Noir

Written by Leo Panasyuk September 22, 2014

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In the last few years, Liam Neeson has established himself as more of an action hero archetype than a dramatic actor; though this is not to discredit his abilities or any of his skill sets (this is the man who played Oskar Schindler, after all). It’s been a while since we’ve seen Neeson in a serious role that demanded him to employ his “particular set of skills” in something other than punching or shooting or any combination of the two, and while Scott Frank’s “A Walk Among the Tombstones” does feature that brash side of Neeson, it also lets him channel his inner Humphrey Bogart as he sets out to solve a murder mystery in the cold concrete jungle of New York City.

“People are Scared of all the Wrong Things”

Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a retired NYPD detective who works as an unlicensed private investigator, doing “favours for gifts.” When the wife of drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) is kidnapped by two men (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) and brutally murdered, Kristo hires Scudder to investigate the kidnapping and bring the two men to justice. Though like most noir films that “Tombstones” bases itself off of, the investigation is much darker and more complex than Scudder initially assumes and it’s not long before he finds himself walking in deep, dark territory.

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Neeson as Bogart

“A Walk Among the Tombstones” takes many cues and hints from popular noir films and even makes reference to some of its most well-known detectives such as Sam Spade. Neeson acts as the gumshoe private eye, tasked with solving a crime whose circumstances and implications are beyond him. For the most part, the film is very straightforward and easy to follow, though there are a few twists and turns in the story to keep things exciting – however, they are so far and between that their overall effect is diluted by the somewhat predictable plot. The film takes place in 1999 amid the Y2K scare and the film is rife with Y2K warnings and imagery, though they do little to affect the story and are simply there to remind you (ad nauseum) that the year is 1999 and that “the end is nigh.”

Black-and-White Heroes and Villains

Overall, Neeson is thoroughly convincing as the Spade/Bogart-type detective and his character is shrouded in just enough mystery that he feels genuine to the part and decidedly different from his more recent ‘superhero’ type roles. He befriends a street-smart kid named T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley) and their relationship (or partnership) is what sets the film apart from its noir roots and gives it a contemporary feel, as an old dog is taught new tricks by a young pup. I have to give special mention to David Harbour (he is one half of the murderous duo Neeson pursues throughout the film) as his creepy, twisted, and psychotic demeanour feels too real for comfort and to see some of the disturbing crimes him and his partner commit truly make you wish for their demise to come as quickly and brutally as possible.

Perhaps not Oscar-worthy performances, but disturbing nonetheless.

Perhaps not Oscar-worthy performances, but disturbing nonetheless.

The rest of the supporting characters are passable enough at best and only serve the purpose of propelling the plot forward. The story itself, as I mentioned, is relatively easy to follow and doesn’t really stray too far from the conventional noir tropes. While the first and second acts are more investigative and intense, the third act turns into a violent cat-and-mouse finale that offers up some suspense and action for Neeson to fight and shoot his way out of.

Overall

Scott Frank’s “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is a nice throwback to the classic noir films of the post-World War 2 era and Neeson proves that he is more than a fist and a trigger finger. With despicable and brutal antagonists, a tried-and-true story, and a sufficient supporting cast, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” becomes an enthralling film from the beginning, though things get a bit muddled in the middle and towards the end. If you’re a fan of crime thrillers, noir, or just Liam Neeson (let’s be real, who isn’t), you likely won’t be disappointed with this film.

My Rating: 6/10

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About Leo Panasyuk

A fan of all things film, Leo never really lets himself get tied down to one specific genre. He's always interested in watching new and old films and especially loves the IMAX format. When he's not choosing which movie to watch next, he's studying Film and English at Western University.

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