Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery
Directed by: Scott Frank
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Astro
At a couple of points throughout A Walk Among The Tombstones, Liam Neeson’s unlicensed private investigator, Matthew Scudder, is equated to a modern day Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. It’s a clear declaration from writer-director Scott Frank, that this will not be the typical wham-bang, gung-ho, guns blazing Liam Neeson action flick that we’ve all come to expect from the actor over the last few years.
The film is set in 1999 and finds former NYPD detective Scudder, an unlicensed PI, recovering alcoholic and all round tormented individual, approached by Dan Stevens’ drug trafficker to track down the murderers of his wife. Scudder soon finds himself drawn into a gruesome game of cat and mouse involving a pair of psychotic serial killers.
The synopsis may sound like yet another excuse for Neeson to go around smashing down doors and punching people in the face before shooting them, but instead, Frank utilizes a different approach for his hero. Despite a well-staged opening shoot out, Frank instead exchanges guns and punches for something far more talky, more sinister and a little more complex, imbuing Neeson’s PI with a skill set that involves smarts rather than brawn, as Scudder moves through the rain soaked streets of pre-2000 NYC.
While Neeson may resemble Taken’s Brian Mills, Scudder is a PI of the old school variety; a man of intelligence and investigative perseverance, treading lightly when others would storm in. Of course, when the time comes, Neeson’s Scudder is more than capable of holding his own, but for the most part, this is a man who will use violence as a last resort.
For his part, Neeson is in familiar territory as the gruff and tormented Scudder. With his long coat and ever reliable gruffness, Neeson is Neeson through and through, ever watchable as always. Unfortunately though, as a character, Scudder is neither interesting nor compelling enough to be truly memorable. Scudder’s back story and recovering alcoholism are such staples of the genre, that it’s hard to see past the fact that they were anything other than genre trappings.
The supporting cast, meanwhile, fails to make an impact. Dan Stevens is wasted here. While bringing intensity to the role of drug trafficker Kenny Kristo, it is never fully explored, and a subplot involving his brother played by Boyd Holbrook, feels underplayed and lacks impact.
Another subplot involving Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley’s street urchin, TJ, feels woefully out of place in such an intense thriller such as this. Whenever the film cuts back to Scudder and TJ’s burgeoning mentor/protégé relationship, the film falls flat, detracting from the intensity of the main storyline.
While it probably won’t ignite a new franchise for the star, fans of Liam Neeson’s recent output should find enjoyment in the actor’s ever-reliable gruff and commanding presence. While some may find this a welcome change of pace for Neeson, and delight in it’s more “grown-up” sensibility, others will be found extremely wanting.