It's another year which means it's time for a new Liam Neeson movie where he plays a grizzled, tough as nails middle aged dude dispatched to retrieve what has been taken. It could be a kid, it could be his identity, it could be an airplane, but he's going to get it back and kick some ass in the process. Today it's Mr. Neeson in 'A Walk among Tombstones', and some kid does get taken, and he's going to try to get her back and all, but mostly he just needs to find these guys that took this kid because these cats are some serious bad news.
The Year is 1999 and Neeson is unlicensed private detective and recovering alcoholic Matt Scudder. One of Scudder's AA colleagues introduces him to his drug dealing brother Kenny (Dan Stevens) whose wife has been kidnapped and he needs to make use of his services. Kenny doesn't want Scudder to find his wife, I mean she's completely dead already, but just find the men that took her so he can avenge her death. Against his better judgment, Scudder takes the case.
So Scudder gets down to the business of finding these guys. About these two miscreants… they are awful. Apparently they kidnap the women of various drug dealers in town, not because they don't like drug dealers, but because drug dealers won't call the cops, and they brutally torture these women. They also hold them for ransom, but it seems the main purpose of what they do is just torture for the fun of torture.
Scudder does his legwork, and I mean this literally because I don't think the man has a car as he walks everywhere in this big dirty city, and he makes the acquaintance of a young street urchin named T.J. (Brian Bradley) who assists as the kid has mastered these newfangled technologies known as The Internet and Cell Phones. And he walks through the city some more, grabbing the clues, putting things together, stepping on toes, getting beatup for his trouble every once in a while… and walking through the city some more.
Eventually these kidnapping, dismembering lunatics take somebody that shouldn't have taken, a child… not that they care… and if possible Scudder and his newfound drug dealing buddies are going to get her back. If possible. And a shootout looms. Of course it does.
Director Scott Frank's 'A Walk Among Tombstones' is… well… I don't know. I would like to call it a good film, and it certainly has the prerequisites of a film I would normally enjoy with its gritty, overcast atmosphere, harsh villains who have zero redeemable qualities, high quality source material and of course Liam Neeson in the lead. Generally speaking, with these solid attributes, I don't think a filmmaker can go too terribly wrong. In addition Mr. Frank helmed a film from a few years back called 'The Lookout' which had a lot of qualities similar to this film, and a film we did enjoy somewhat, so we were hopeful.
Now having seen 'A Walk Among Tombstones', I won't say that I was disappointed by what we saw or let down by what we saw, but there did seem to be somewhat of a disconnect in what we saw. The film seemed to waffle between whether it wanted to be a 'Serpico' styled action film or whether it wanted to be a gritty, nihilistic crime drama similar to 'No Country for Old Men' or something along those lines. The two can co-exist, the afore mentioned 'Serpico' is an example of this, but they didn't necessarily co-exist in 'A Walk Among Tombstones'.
I believe a majority of the issues started even before a frame was shot for 'A Walk Among Tombstones' in adapting Lawrence Block's novel which for starters was pretty dense, with that in itself making it a challenge translate a lot of what was in the book to the screen, but was also not brimming with a lot of action. How does one turn this dark, brooding, foreboding, rather slow moving tale into a brisk action film? I believe the solution that was dreamed up was adding Liam Neeson and shootouts. The Neeson part of this equation was a good one. Think Mr. Neeson can play a weathered, worldly badass with a spotty past? If one is under the age of twenty-five, it's probably all you think he can play… this is so not the case… but he does play this part very well. It's the action part of the equation that felt forced, not to mention a conclusion that had the feel of being invented since the film practically had two different endings. The logical one and then the action themed one that followed soon after.
Schizophrenic would be the best way I can describe my feelings about 'A Walk Among Tombstones', a movie that had the pedigree to be one thing in particular, but was trying to fit into a box that it really didn't belong in.