Sunday, February 8, 2015

"A Walk Among the Tombstones" Proves More Than Your Typical Liam Neeson Actioner

Liam Neeson gets to do more than just snarl his way through this one.
Since the runaway success of the original Taken six years ago, Liam Neeson has appeared as a stoic tough guy in anywhere between eight and a dozen movies depending on how you view the likes of Clash of the Titans, The Lego Movie and A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Considering that, it would be easy to shrug off A Walk Among the Tombstones as another in a long line of stock actioners meant to capitalize on audience fondness for Bryan Mills and his extremely abductable family.

However, while Neeson is still playing an intimidating ass kicker, A Walk Among the Tombstones is very different from Taken, Non-Stop and all the other cookie cutter crap he's been churning out the last few years. As far as this action phase of his goes, this one fits most comfortably alongside The Grey, another film that took this hardass archetype and actually ventured into thoughtful reflection and interesting characterization.

Based on one of the books from Lawrence Block's popular detective series, A Walk Among the Tombstones isn't even much of an action movie -- it's a dark, slow-burn character piece. Box Office Mojo compares it to Prisoners, and while I don't think it's quite in the same league as that film, the comparison is apt. Another analog would be The Lookout, the only other film ace screenwriter Scott Frank (Minority Report, Out of Sight) had directed before this one.

Plotwise, the film sounds like a movie you've seen before. It follows Matthew Scudder (Neeson), a disgraced former police officer who works as a non-licensed detective when he's not attending AA meetings, as he investigates the murder of a drug kingpin's wife. Combined with his taking a street kid under his wing, the case ultimately provides Scudder a chance at redemption.

But a film like this isn't so much about plot as it is about mood and tone, and Frank and Neeson get all of that right (besides a voiceover during the conclusion that ham-fistedly ties in the 12 steps of AA). Neeson still gets to be the grizzled badass here, but there's a humanity to the guy that really plays. And in a film of this ilk, that can go a long way. B