A former cop turned private investigator takes on a dark case of kidnapping and murder.
If you’ve already seen a trailer for A Walk Among the Tombstones, wipe it from your memory. Like most movies post-Taken, the promos work hard to conjure up the film as another revenge thriller with Neeson capping fools. It’s not, and it’s all the better for it.
Tombstones is actually a pure-bred detective story and a film that revels in the slow creep of information, the unspooling of clues and clandestine activities and sporadic bursts of deadly violence.
Writer/director Scott Frank (The Lookout, Minority Report) takes his cues from Lawrence Block’s tenth Matthew Scudder novel and strips away much of the subcutaneous storylines to great effect. It’s probably an even better version of the story than Block’s original, avoiding the latter’s clichéd technobabble and retaining a tighter focus on the central investigation.
Neeson makes for a brilliant Scudder. Though he’s become known for his stoic characters and eternal, gun-gripping grimace he gets a little more room to play here, cracking a smirk and a quip from time to time and even essaying a bit of a New York accent. I’d happily watch him play this character well into his later years.
The rest of the cast doesn’t get a huge amount to do. There’s decent chemistry between Neeson and X-Factor America kid Brian Bradley while David Harbour and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson do their various creepy things. The only oddity is The Guest’s Dan Stevens, who is too young and too pretty for his tortured drug dealer role.
Frank’s direction here is rock solid throughout, bringing a sense of style (and horror) to the opening titles and staging a brutal gunfight –all in the opening moments. One of my favourite things about the film is that there’s no half measures with the sound design, each gun sounds like a cannon, each bullet a death sentence.
All in all, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a much better film than it will be given credit for, and Neeson’s finest since The Grey. It’s grim and dark and dense, with a sprinkle of humour and some grounded and bone-crunching action. For once, it’s a thriller throwback which really earns the title and a worthy way to wash the bad away the bitter taste of Taken.