A Walk Among the Tombstones – Review by Frances Winston
Directed by: Scott Frank
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook, Ruth Wilson, Sebastian Roché
In cinemas September 19th
Liam Neeson is certainly relishing his current action hero status which came rather late in his career. Here he once again plays a troubled tough guy – a role he is making very much his own in the last few years. Here he plays Matthew Scudder a recovering alcoholic former NYPD officer who left the force after accidentally killing a young girl. The character is the brainchild of writer Lawrence Block, this is based on the book of the same name although it incorporates elements from other novels also.
Working as an unlicensed private eye Scudder is hired by a drug dealer Kenny Kristo (Stevens) to track down the people who kidnapped, killed and mutilated his wife. The deeper he delves into the case the more he realises that this is a bigger issue than just one drug dealer being targeted by opportunists and that he is in fact dealing with sick serial killers. Deciding to quit the case he gets sucked back in when the young daughter of another drug dealer is kidnapped by the same gang and he puts himself on the line in order to ensure that the youngster is returned safely.
This movie has apparently been in the works for years with Harrison Ford originally attached to star. It has all the ingredients of a gritty drama and no one does agonised and intense like Neeson. Unfortunately this falls very flat. It is somewhat all over the place and there are far too many things going on at any one time. A young boy called TJ befriends Scudder and the whole relationship just seems somewhat odd. In the novels he was introduced in a different book so the relationship was well established by Tomstones and here you just get the feeling he has been shoehorned into the movie. Stevens is really trying to get away from his Downton Abbey persona but he is an unconvincing drug dealer and doesn’t really embody the character. The script is also sluggish and makes it difficult to remain engaged with what is going on while the “action” is slow and languid.
On the plus side the cinematography is beautiful and Neeson does give a great performance. However that isn’t enough to make this a compelling watch. Part of the problem lies with the fact that the character of Scudder is written rather unsympathetically. If you don’t care about the protagonist you are unlikely to care about the film. Also, by trying to incorporate elements of Scudders life from several different novels you sometimes lose the sense of this story.
The person I attended this screening with said “if Liam Neeson wasn’t in that it would go straight to DVD” and there is definitely a whiff of that about it. It is enjoyable enough as a movie experience but not really as a cinematic experience. This would be great on your TV at home where you can press pause and make a snack and come back to it but it is a disappointing big screen offering.