A Walk Among the Tombstones / B
Liam Neeson has spent so many years bringing class and gravitas to otherwise undeserving films (the Taken series, Battleship, Non-Stop) that it's nice to see him in a movie more befitting his talents.
Playing novelist Lawrence Block's tough and brooding Matt Scutter, Neeson effortlessly conveys the world weary street smarts of his retired cop-turned-private detective in writer-director Scott Frank's well-made slow-burn throwback to the 1970s potboiler.
Set in 1990s New York, A Walk Among The Tombstones is a gritty noir that depicts the city that never sleeps as a series of dark, rotten holes where corruption and violence festers. In long, sharp shots, Frank and his cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. create an atmosphere of under-lit dread without sacrificing pace or tension.
After a AA meeting Scutter is asked by a fellow addict to help his brother, a yuppie drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) whose wife has been abducted. Kenny has already paid the ransom but the kidnappers butchered her anyway. Now he wants revenge. The already disturbing and difficult case grows more complicated as Scutter learns that the killers (pasty David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) are somehow able to target the loved ones of drug dealers, knowing that they will be loathe to involve the police. Using smarts and painstaking investigative skills rather than muscle, he starts untangling Block's elaborate web, assisted by an Internet-savvy homeless black teen named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), whose dialog seems like it was penned by a middle-aged white guy. Despite this, Neeson shares an easy chemistry with the young actor and the relationship almost convinces.
Tragically but true to the genre, A Walk Among The Tombstones doesn't even attempt to pass the Bechdel test, depicting its women as voiceless victims that are either stalked, mutilated, or murdered. To his credit, Frank never relies on gratuitous or graphic depictions to convey the sadistic savagery of the abductors (the mechanics of their brutality is suggested rather than shown), but one has to question the wisdom of a scene where a young woman is forced to choose which breast won't be sliced off or a POV shot where a potential teenage victim walks passed the killers in slow-motion to Donovan’s “Atlantis.”
Still, as an evening of pulpy thrills, Frank's film has plot, mood and style to spare, jangling our nerves with a disquieting rooftop interrogation and quickening the pulse with an exciting final show down. And the 62 year-old Neeson commands our attention every step of the way, demonstrating that crime genre filmmaking is still very much a country best suited for old men.
A Walk Among The Tombstones opens Friday, Sept. 19. It's rated R and has a run time of 114 minutes.