A Walk Among The Tombstones (2014)


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Info SidebarA Walk Among The Tombstones calls to mind, why yes, every single Liam Neeson movie of recent memory (The Lego Movie [2014] included). Has he opened a factory that produces these sorts of characters on a conveyor belt? If I knew Mr. Neeson, which I don’t, I’d ask him how his factory is faring, then I’d ask him how Oskar Schindler is doing. Or Michael Collins. Or Jean Valjean. Chances are he’s not heard from them in a while.

I have held Neeson in high regard for many years. He has mastered dramatic pathos, tasted the sweet waters of comedy, so skilfully swashbuckled his way through Hollywood. But what is he remembered for now? Oh that’s right, a threatening phone call to a kidnapper. I feel for the man. You know how some actors get that Big Break role? Neeson got his some 20 years ago; his career has been on repeat for the past 6.

This isn’t to say Tombstones is a bad movie, or an unoriginal one. I quite liked it. It’s dark and brooding, relying heavily on suspense instead of mind-numbing action. In some ways it resembles a good Agatha Christie novel — not all the suspects are nearby, but the path the hero takes to reach them is dangerously fraught.

Neeson plays Matthew Scudder, one of those retired cop types. We don’t see much of him in his heyday. What we do see is limited to ducks and runs and shootouts, not very thrilling. Now he moonlights as a private eye and picks up a young, brash, teenage sidekick (Brian Bradley), who speaks in a language so black Lil Jon will be scrambling for his urban dictionary. This sidekick is a bit of a coin flip — sometimes he’s irritating, sometimes he’s very clever, possibly too clever for the screenplay.

Matthew is hired by Kenny, a big-time drug trafficker whose wife has just been gruesomely murdered by a duo (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) unnaturally obsessed with underground snuff films. Matthew’s hesitant, but the case intrigues him. It intrigued him much quicker than it did me, it has to be said, which I thought was going to be a problem somewhat devastating. But after a twist here and a suicide there, the plot picks up a considerable amount of steam and careens through its characters, some of whom remain at a standstill in its wake.

I cannot give away much more of the plot for risk of damaging its little surprises for everyone. What I can say is that there’s no climax in which the Neeson character saves the day by beating the pulp out of bad guys (there is, of course, the phone call scene, refurbished slightly, using different words to convey the same message). There is a shootout in a cemetery, which could easily have been Tombstones’ third act, but stops suddenly and gives way to its real third act: A more polished, calmer climax in a dingy house. I commend writer/director Scott Frank for showing prudent restraint. It is much appreciated.

I want to make a note of the casting, which is composed, apart from Neeson, of actors unadorned by the floodlights of Hollywood’s glitz. Dan Stevens plays Kenny. He’s known for his role on the popular British drama, Downton Abbey. Boyd Holbrook (the scuba instructor from The Skeleton Twins [2014]) smuggles himself into the plot at opportune times, not always to opportune outcomes. The sidekick is played by an X-Factor finalist. The faces, and names, of the villains are unfamiliar to me (this is a good thing — they are effectively creepy). And the groundskeeper of the cemetery is played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, an Icelandic screenwriter who does a wonderful job shuffling his character into a corner and then jumping out of it.

 

Best Moment | Liam Neeson being badass, as usual. Or the climax.

Worst Moment | Some of Brian Bradley’s scenes. He’s a young kid, I get that, but he is unintentionally awkward at times.


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