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Walk Among the Tombstones, A (2014)

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Score: 8/10

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: September 19th, 2014 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Scott Frank Actors: Liam Neeson, David Harbour, Adam David Thompson, Razane Jammal, Marielle Heller, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Dan Stevens

G

hastly, gritty, and more mystery-thriller than rapid-fire actioner, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is a refreshing change of pace for regular antihero Liam Neeson.  While his persona exhibits a subtle refinement to the calculating ingenuity and piercing calmness reminiscent of prior roles, the supplementary characters range from moderately corrupt to downright psychopathic, creating an atmosphere both intense and daring.  Despite an overlong conclusion and a rather heavy-handed parallel to the twelve steps of recovery from addiction, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” offers yet another memorable performance by Neeson and a taut, enigmatic plot that relies on competent storytelling over bromidic twists.

Former NYPD detective and alcoholic Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) has cleaned up his act and stayed sober for eight years after the tragic outcome of a frenzied shootout. Now working as an unlicensed private investigator, Scudder is drawn into the baffling case of a kidnapping that ends in brutal homicide.  Employed by nefarious businessman Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens), Scudder begins to unravel the events leading up to the abduction of the wealthy criminal’s wife.  With the aid of tech-savvy rebel TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), the weathered bloodhound gradually pieces together the evidence that will lead him to the terrifying truth.

In the opening lines of the film, Neeson throws around expletives, sports untamed hair, brandishes a badge and overactive firearm, and has a long brown coat swish around him. It’s a decidedly grungier look for the actor, who has in recent years become something of a realistic action star, engaging in limited martial arts and, primarily, skills based on instincts, information retrieval, and ex-military reconnaissance. Here, as a sleuth likened to Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe (which sets the bar awfully high), he still possesses that distinct edge, which updates those classic gumshoes for the 21st century (though this film is specifically set in the ‘90s). And once again, he does it alone, supported by a capable cast of relative unknowns, who never steal the show from such an uncompromising, openly venal, former addict antihero.

The mystery portion of “A Walk Among the Tombstones” isn’t all that original, though appropriate brooding, fitting music, and effectual suspense dot the marginally lengthy script. Most of the clue collecting is done in flashbacks, solely to make the narrative more complex, but it’s a pointless exercise. Neeson is already entirely watchable, the momentary pairing with a highly contrasting youngster is amusing, the killers’ motives are far more absorbing than figuring out their identities, and the multitude of plotlines creates superior character development when compared to the recent efforts of “Prisoners,” “Jack Reacher,” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Like “Taken,” “Fargo,” and “Ransom,” this new crime drama cleverly changes the rules to typical hostage situations and negotiations, but with the added grimness of an R rating and unpredictably vile antagonists. Instead of the routineness of a vigilante revenge thriller, Scudder’s involvement serves as the driving force for morally justifiable comeuppance – not specific retaliation. As his loved ones are never the victims, it’s clearly more about salvation (and in many tense moments, potent bluster). And Neeson is right at home with the heightened level of violence, adult language, and unrelenting seriousness.

– The Massie Twins

 



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