September 20, 2014
The book series by Lawrence Block upon which the lead character Matt Scudder was derived began in 1976. "A Walk Among the Tombstones" is based on the 10th book of the Scudder series with the same title, published in 1992.
An ex-cop haunted by guilt, Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) now operates as an "unlicensed" private detective. One day in 1999, he was hired by a wealthy young man Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) to track down two men (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) who kidnapped and killed his wife Carrie. Scudder gets himself caught in a dark web of drug traffickers, psychotic serial killers and lonely denizens in the underbelly of New York City.
Lately, Liam Neeson is more known for his high-adrenaline action films like "Taken" and "Taken 2". He takes a departure from that type of hi- octane explosive vehicle to take on a more calculated, old-fashioned film noir in this one. Nevertheless, Neeson plays a character who is no less bad-ass, very much an action hero. Yet, his serious dramatic acting skills get to shine here, more than his brawn. He certainly portrayed this role with credibility and charisma.
Aside from Neeson, there were some supporting characters that will capture your sympathy. There was James Loogan, the cemetery caretaker who loved pigeons, played so creepily well by Olafur Darri Olafsson. There was Howie, the addict who wants to but can't quit his drug habit, disarmingly played by Eric Nelsen. And finally, there was TJ, a homeless orphan who idolizes the likes of Spade and Marlowe, played with sensitivity, humor and heart by the young Brian "Astro" Bradley.
The storytelling by writer/director Scott Frank is very laid back and even contemplative in pace, with artistic cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. The opening scene alone was a sensual slow-motion close-up flesh-on-white sequence with the real context only appearing at its end. There was also a scene of a young girl in a bright red hooded jacket crossing the street with her dog that was beautifully sinister.
This may disorient and even disappoint those fans who were expecting another "Taken" retread. Even the detective work is a throwback to the old school -- no hi-tech CSI stuff here. You get the same chilling vibe as other grisly crime thrillers like "Se7en" or "Zodiac" because this one also does not scrimp on the gore. "A Walk Among the Tombstones" may be less intellectual than those two mentioned, but Liam Neeson's engagingly on-point lead performance manages to lift it above the average crime drama film. 7/10.