A Walk Among The Tombstones

Scott Frank’s A Walk Among the Tombstones is a triumph in violence and mayhem, in that finally solidifies how we feel about Liam Neeson. We used to think of him as a savior, the man who would enter the film and alleviate the tension with his special set of skills. You know the kind. But now we need just one thing from Neeson: give the man a gun and let him do what he needs to do; let him be a terror and let him wreak havoc and we’ll eat with a spoon.

A private detective with a storied past who’s interested in spiking his coffee and being left alone, Matthew Scudder (Neeson) finds his next gig when he crosses paths with a fellow addict at AA who connects him to a drug kingpin (Dan Stevens). It’s not the narcotics; it’s the fact that Kenny Kristo’s wife was kidnapped by brutal assailants who asked for a sky-high ransom and butchered her anyway when they got the money. It’s up to Scudder to help him seek revenge.

The film is a throwback to Sam Spade and classic P.I. fare of the past, set in the not-too distant 1990s, Scudder isn’t the kindliest hero ever to grace the screen. He’s gruff, he’s cavalier with a gun and it’s clear that he doesn’t think his clients are all that intelligent. But the guys he’s up against are the scum of the earth, and he’ll be the one to stop them, if only to make up for his own mistakes.

When he decides to take on Kristo’s case, he’s led down a rabbit hole that quickly reveals that this isn’t the first case of its kind. Women all over the city have been kidnapped, held for ransom and brutalized, likely by the same suspects (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson). We’re not introduced to the villains until later in the story, but the payoff of meeting the sadistic killers — and finally seeing their encounter with Scudder — is worth the wait. The movie is part police thriller, part cat and mouse game, and it’s completely satisfying, gory fare. As Scudder, Neeson has taken on a more cerebral role than some of his recent work, but he’s still allowed to be the action star that we all need and want him to personify.

To humanize Scudder, the detective is accompanied largely by a homeless teenager named TJ (Brian Bradley), whom the clueless technophobe meets at the library while attempting to research back cases. Working as his protégé, or maybe an assistant, TJ is well-versed on his detective novels and his Internet skills, and is perhaps the only person who truly cares for Scudder at the end of the day (and vice-versa). Though at times he seems out of place, because it does seem a little irresponsible to bring a 15-year-old to a gunfight.

But like anything in life, and in this film, it’s best to realize to just trust Liam Neeson and let everything else fall in place.