Liam Neeson has been riding a wave of middle-career action hero success since Taken became a global phenomenon. He’s back in an actioner of sorts with A Walk Among the Tombstones. The thing with this film is that Neeson’s private detective character has his fair share of action scenes, but he does so much more with his mind than with his muscle.
Neeson plays Matt Scudder, the character made famous in the book series by author Lawrence Block. We meet Scudder years prior to when our film takes place and he is an alcoholic NYPD detective. One day, after he's had a few drinks, he pursues a couple of robbers -- killing two of them, injuring a third and accidentally taking the life of a little girl who was caught in the crossfire.
As the film quickly moves into the present tense, Scudder is clean and sober and is working as a private detective, oftentimes for those who cannot go to the cops. One of those comes calling in the form of Dan Stevens’ (currently seen in The Guest) drug dealer Kenny Kristo. His wife was kidnapped. Kristo paid, and the bastards still brutally murdered her.
Kristo wants Scudder to find them, and let him extol his own brand of justice. The only thing is as Scudder digs deeper, his detective senses take over and he realizes that there may be a serial killer (or worse) at work here.
Writer-director Scott Frank has done a masterful job of painting cinematic strokes of grey and darker colors that are present in Block’s books. The streets of New York don’t often appear as gritty as they do in his film, seen even in the A Walk Among the Tombstones trailer. Frank has crafted a film that is almost noir in its detective who must find the bad guys before they commit more crime milieu. But this hero is quite different, as played by Neeson.
Neeson turns in as subtle of a performance as he has in years. The role of Scudder is custom fit for the Irish actor. He plays all the nuances of a man who is desperately seeking vindication, and yet simultaneously feels that he does not deserve it -- due to the sins of his past. There are more books in this series, and we hope that A Walk Among the Tombstones is a hit so we can see Neeson back as Scudder again soon.
We don’t want to give anything away in terms of Neeson’s quest to find our guilty party. But the performer who inhabits the role of evildoer creates one of the most twistedly sinister and terrifying foes we’ve seen in some time. And that is utterly fitting given the grey area that Scudder resides in. As an audience, it is a pure joy to see an evil brought down by someone who is not necessarily bad, but is not so good either.
Lastly, our A Walk Among the Tombstones review has to highlight the performance by Stevens. Fans of his turn in Downton Abbey will hardly recognize the UK actor as Kristo. He is not a character with whom the audience will have an affinity for. Yet through Steven’s immense talents, we truly want him to find justice.
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