Release: Friday, September 19, 2014
Mr. Neeson’s very particular set of skills, while not applied quite as liberally this time around, still make themselves available during creative bursts of energy in this brand new crime thriller from Scott Frank.
There’s a chill in the air and an eerie quiet about the New York City imagined in A Walk Among the Tombstones, a surprisingly more meditative experience whose title conjures up visions of a modern twist on the western. (Really, it’s an adaptation of Lawrence Block’s 1992 novel of the same name.) Such an impression is further solidified by the lack of pedestrian (really, any) traffic in these parts; spurts of grisly violence; a character that comes across more righteous protector than a blunt instrument who can wield an iPhone like nobody’s business.
Yeah, okay — he’s no John Wayne, but clad in the long coat with high-rise collar concealing nape of neck he begs a comparison to a number of badass outlaw archetypes. In 2014 Neeson may be deep in his trajectory to becoming one of the coolest action stars of the 21st Century, but he’s also mindful that his dramatic chops always have room for improvement. Given the number of avenues that are taken to subvert the lead’s aggressive persona Tombstones proves to be the ideal platform for him to work on that.
Matthew Scudder is an unlicensed private investigator and a former member of the NYPD hired on the spot by a desperate heroin dealer (Dan Stevens) to find who kidnapped and brutally murdered his wife. In the process he comes in contact with a homeless youth named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) whose attitude belies a warm yet vulnerable and perpetually crumbling core. Betrayed by both parents at an early age, he’s no original creation but he is a slight revelation as a humorous partner-in-crime who convinces us of his humanity. That’s a directorial decision that extends all the way to Neeson, who disposes with the over-the-top dramatics in favor of one of his most stalwart performances since Oskar Schindler.
Granted the circumstances are nowhere near as historically relevant. They’re not really relevant at all. A drug dealer’s home life falling apart in gut-wrenching fashion is not the same kind of gut-wrenching as the stipulations made by the developments within Schindler’s List. An alcoholic learning to overcome his personal issues is not the same as a humanitarian working diligently to save lives in the height of one of the worst crimes against humanity ever recorded. Then again, this is kind of an unfair comparison.
Relying on the strength of its source material and a pair of wonderfully sinister performances from David Harbour and Adam David Thompson as the sadistic kidnappers, actors more than willing to take on the challenge of matching the subtle intensity of Liam Neeson, this grave walk delivers a slow-burning, dread-inducing tale of good versus evil, which may sound on paper as rather unoriginal. In execution, however, Tombstones takes some fascinating back alleys that will have you riveted and possibly more infatuated with the gruff Neeson than ever.
And for those curious, yes indeed, the film does come complete with an electrifying phone conversation that will have you readjusting your jockeys. A Walk Among the Tombstones is not classic Liam Neeson, but rather a reinvention of the concept.
Recommendation: Going in expecting another Taken would be the mistake! Enjoy a solid and restrained performance from Neeson who more than capably holds the screen in yet another convincingly tense crime thriller. The title may be a chore to utter time and again, but the experience — though notably lacking in pulse-pounding action — is worth repeating to friends who you think may be interested, those who may consider themselves the more dedicated Liam Neeson fan.
Running Time: 113 mins.
Quoted: “Once they’re in the van they’re just body parts. . .”
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