To those out there saying something like ‘ah well, this is just another Taken’. Rejoice my friends, Taken this is not, instead what A Walk Among The Tombstones proved to be was an incredibly dark and haunting, yet possibly predictable experience. This is a film which basked on Neeson’s talent as an observant and composed leading man and its this successful style which has been ever so present in his films in the last decade. A Walk Among The Tombstones is based around former cop and now ‘unlicensed’ private detective Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) who has been asked to do a job for a local drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) whose wife has recently been kidnapped and killed. The job is simple, to bring those responsible to Kristo. However as we begin to uncover more about the crime and the people connected to it we learn that it is much darker than anyone could have first imagined and danger is seemingly always around the corner.
The questions posed at the beginning of the movie are whether Scudder should actually take on this job, mainly because throughout the movie we learn of Scudder’s dark past, primarily why he is no longer a cop which has massive implications on the movie as a whole. Adding to this is the question of who would have the nerve to kidnap and murder a major drug trafficker’s wife in such a gruesome fashion. During the first half of the film we are led on a harrowing detective tale as we follow nervously behind Scudder blindly walking into a dark, dark world. We can all sit back engrossed in our seats hoping for a clue or indeed anything that can shed a light on the crime. This only adds to the gloomy feel of the movie and believe me, it is very gloomy. The opening sequence for one is black and white, most scenes are shot with a foreboding midnight sky and even when it’s shot in the day it feels as if the infinite grey clouds stalk the characters. However, the sky is only half the story as it flouters above a New York City with drug infested derelict buildings, underground adult video stores and graveyard rivers with body parts in them. This is a not a film for the fainthearted.
Interestingly we find out about the killer/killers (trying my best to not give anything away here) fairly early on in the movie, this does break some degree of the tension, but the shocking revelation of the identity/identities only makes the story more engrossing. I can officially tell you now that there has not been a movie in which I have wanted the villain/villains to die as much as this in a very long time. This is what makes the movie stand out among other contemporary thrillers, the antagonists. The source of evil in this movie is so amazingly realistic and horrible but it lacks a proper background or narrative which was so frustrating to me. When you do find out who committed this crime you really demand to know more, but the film only wants to focus on Scudder’s point of view as the protagonist.
The style of the movie is a pleasure to witness and is assisted nicely by a brooding soundtrack by Carlos Rafael Rivera which is extremely atmospheric and it really does make every scene feel nervy and unpredictable. You can tell that the structure and atmosphere owes itself to the original material written by (the film’s director) Scott Frank, which not surprisingly was a best seller. One low point for me though was the inclusion of a young orphan (Brian Bradley) attempting to follow in the footsteps of Neeson’s character and to help Scudder. However this character only serves as a vehicle for Scudder to seem more humane and it felt out of place and unrealistic, moreover, his involvement in the plot majorly influenced the ending, damaging it in the process. This however, didn’t interrupt the impact of the other characters. Neeson, as explored earlier does a really good job in subtly portraying the baggage of Scudder’s past life and is able to show the amount of damage and hurt Scudder carries around with him. His performance is the standout.
Like most other films in the genre A Walk Among The Tombstones doesn’t truly break into any new ground, but I do really appreciate the attempt of the director. For me, its the way the film has been constructed and formulated that has to be given plaudits here. Most crime thrillers in this generation would have a big name star (like Neeson) and would waste their talents on car chases, shoot offs and unwarranted gratuitous violence with no depth in the characters or their motives. This film has at least attempted to by-pass the errors of other crime thrillers by being, to a degree, unique. The film opens with a bang, a really shocking and intense scene and then the film restrains itself without at all losing its sense of paranoia or danger and this in turn shows that the film has acknowledged that to differentiate itself it must be more than just a number of scenes depicting blatant on-screen violence.
This film is a harsh venture into a world I hope no one ever gets caught up in. For me, its one the most fresh, stylish and dark crime thrillers that came out of 2014. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t The Godfather of crime thrillers and it hasn’t got Neeson as Brando, but that doesn’t really matter. The wonderful cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. with the stripped down color design as well as the slow stirring nature of the plot will no doubt keep you intrigued. This isn’t the best film ever made, it was however a valiant attempt to stylize a genre dead in the water – does it succeed? – You can be the judge of that.
A Walk Among The Tombstones debuts Saturday, February 06 at 8:00pm.