A Walk Among the Tombstones

Directed By: Scott Frank

Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Eric Nelsen, Brian "Astro" Bradley, Sebastian Roché, and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson

It's been a rough year at the movies, but the fall is finally here and in full swing.  We've gotten through the hurdles of a rather dismal summer box office season full of duds.  With the fall, we can say goodbye to being inundated with explosions, wild nonsense masquerading as humor, and unwanted sequels or reboots (i.e. Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc).  Now, we can say hello to high quality films appealing to higher brow moviegoers.  Awards season is just about upon us!  This time last year, we had the likes of Gravity, Captain Phillips, and Enough Said on the horizon.  This year, we've got Gone Girl, The Judge, and Fury on the docket in the next several weeks.  A year ago this very weekend, the sensational crime thriller Prisoners arrived in theaters.  This year, we've got Liam Neeson vehicle A Walk Among the Tombstones.  Though it’s not on the same level as Prisoners, it’s not a bad start.

In 1991, Detective Matt Scudder (Neeson) of the NYPD happens to be getting his usual cup of coffee alongside a couple of shots of whiskey at his local bar when three armed robbers enter.  After they steal the cash from the register and viciously kill the bartender on duty, an inebriated Matt makes a decision that changes the course of his life.  He makes the noble but stupid choice to pursue the robbers.  A shoot-out ensues in the streets of New York, and Matt takes each one of them down.  While he is commended by the police force for his courageous pursuit, there is one fatal consequence from his decision to pursue the robbers.  A little girl is hit and killed by one of the stray bullets.  From that day forward, Matt puts down his badge and joins Alcoholics Anonymous.

Eight years later in 1999, Matt still attends his Alcoholics Anonymous sessions and declares how the 12 Step Program changed his life.  He also has found another way to contribute to the community by working as an unlicensed private detective.  While having dinner one night, a man named Howie (Eric Nelsen) interrupts him and asks Matt to go meet his brother Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) about a job.  Matt reluctantly agrees.  At the meeting, he learns that Kenny's wife was kidnapped and brutally murdered by two unknown assailants the other day.  Looking for retribution, Kenny offers Matt $40,000 to investigate his wife's killing.  After some back and forth, Matt again reluctantly agrees.  Soon he's on the trail of men posing as DEA agents targeting drug dealers.  While at the library investigating the case, Matt meets a kid named TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley) who will prove himself to be integral as this investigation unfolds.

Addiction is a major theme in A Walk Among the Tombstones.  Liam Neeson's Matt Scudder battles the lingering demons of his alcoholism.  Eric Nelsen's Howie battles his own demons.  On top of all this, the film's central sickos have an addiction to butchering beautiful women associated with drug dealers.  Director Scott Frank leverages this pervasive theme in his chilling crime thriller to build a haunting tone that arrests the senses and allows him to ratchet up the suspense.  He also creates thrills by bluntly and brutally employing all the typical cinematic techniques — a thunderous score, plenty of horrific gore, and one truly eerie setting.  It all works to great effect as Frank reels us in for thrills time and time again.

Since his success with Taken some six years ago, Liam Neeson has been on a mission to recreate that movie magic.  In that time, we've seen bombs like Unknown, Taken 2, and even Non-Stop earlier this year.  As Detective Matt Scudder in A Walk Among the Tombstones, however, Neeson finds his first legitimate stride since tearing Paris apart for his daughter back in 2008.  As Scudder, Neeson gives us a conflicted, tortured soul who struggles with the lingering shadows of his past alcoholism.  At the same time, he gives us an old lawman who has an understated but burning passion for justice.  Armed with his trademark caustic wit, he delivers plenty of great one-liners as well as laughs.  The only thing that's really missing from the film is an antagonist of Neeson's acting caliber.  While David Harbour is a solid character actor, he's not the ideal choice to go toe-to-toe with Neeson.

I'll be the first to admit that A Walk Among the Tombstones is a genre flick.  Unlike the best of thrillers, it goes by the standard crime thriller playbook.  That being said, Scott Frank and Liam Neeson do the predictable thing exceptionally well.  Sharply directed and solidly performed, A Walk Among the Tombstones is one thoroughly entertaining old school thriller and gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.