Review: A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


3 stars
A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is tense and well-acted, but sometimes draggy mystery thriller.

Seven years ago, acclaimed screenwriter (OUT OF SIGHT, GET SHORTY) Scott Frank made his directorial debut with 2007's THE LOOKOUT (read my review here). Since then, he's been writing screenplays for 2008's MARLEY & ME and 2013's THE WOLVERINE before he finally made a long-awaited comeback to the director's chair with his second directorial effort. On the surface, his follow-up to THE LOOKOUT looks very promising indeed: A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is based on Lawrence Block's bestselling crime novel and has acclaimed veteran actor Liam Neeson playing as Matt Scudder, which happened to be Block's most famous character ever created. However, given the level of talents involved here, the result is worthwhile but not as great as one might have expected at the first place.


The movie begins with a prologue in New York, 1991 where alcoholic NYPD cop Matt Scudder is having double shot of whiskey and coffee at a Washington Heights bar in the morning when a trio of armed robbers burst in and kills a bartender. Scudder is shocked and immediately chase the robbers. He manages to gun down all three of them, but doesn't realize that one of his bullets accidentally killed an innocent young girl. Flash forward to 1999, Scudder has already retired and now working as an unlicensed private detective. One night, he is hired by a drug trafficker named Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens of TV's Downton Abbey) to help him locate the perpetrators responsible for kidnapping and brutally murdered his wife, Carrie (Razane Jammal). At first, Scudder refuses to help even though he is offered US$40,000 in exchange for his service but subsequently agrees anyway after he hears Kenny's detailed story from the day his wife gets abducted to the night where he finds the body of his wife being butchered and placed inside a car trunk. As Scudder begins his investigation, he starts asking people around and eventually discovers that Carrie's abduction has to do with a pair of psychotic killers (David Harbour and Adam Davis Thompson) disguised as DEA agents where they targeting the wives and daughters of drug dealers and killed them viciously once they get their ransom.

Filmed on location around seedy New York area, director Scott Frank and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare, Jr. manage to evoke the kind of old-fashioned gritty thriller that relies more on brain than brawn to solve a case with a subtle feel of gloomy and pessimistic atmosphere.

Liam Neeson gives an engaging performance as a former NYPD cop-turned-unlicensed private detective with a murky past. Apart from pulling off a fine dramatic role as usual (including a TAKEN-like telephone conversation with one of the kidnappers), Neeson also displays a good dry sense of humour especially the way he interacts with a homeless teenager named TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley) who later becomes his unlikely partner to help him with the case. As TJ, Brian "Astro" Bradley almost steals the show with his memorably sarcastic performance while the movie's villains, played by David Harbour and Adam Davis Thompson, are both creepy enough particularly during a few disturbing scenes where they commit sickening acts against their helpless victims. Lastly, Dan Stevens made quite an impression playing a vengeful drug trafficker dying to know about the identities of the kidnappers who butchered his wife.

The tense shootout outside the streets of Washington Heights bar during the opening scene; the interview scene between Matt and the cemetery's groundskeeper (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) at a rooftop building which leads to a shocking end; and the violent showdown between Matt and one of the kidnappers inside a basement.

While the old-school mystery plot is admirable, Scott Frank's adapted screenplay is sometimes too talky and ponderous to the point of testing one's patience. Another glaring weakness here is the lack of sustainable tension that could have balanced most of the talky parts throughout the movie. There's one scene which particularly annoys me the most: Frank made a frustratingly odd creative choice of using unnecessary freeze frames in a supposedly gripping night shootout at the cemetery while juxtaposing with one of the AA's members reciting the 12-step program.


Despite some of the shortcomings, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES has a potential to start a franchise surrounding the character of Matt Scudder from Lawrence Block's series of novels.

* This review is written courtesy from GSC press screening *

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