The resemblance to “Taken” seems too close for this to be considered anything else. Yet this is much, much darker undertaking with enough of a film noir feel to separate the final product from that earlier hit. Neeson excels even when the storyline succumbs to movie tropes. Did he really need a sassy black kid sidekick?
“Based on Lawrence Block’s bestselling series of mystery novels, A Walk among the Tombstones stars Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder, an ex-NYPD cop who now works as an unlicensed private investigator operating just outside the law. When Scudder reluctantly agrees to help a heroin trafficker (Dan Stevens) hunt down the men who kidnapped and then brutally murdered his wife, the PI learns that this is not the first time these men have committed this sort of twisted crime…nor will it be the last. Blurring the lines between right and wrong, Scudder races to track the deviants through the backstreets of New York City before they kill again. (Synopsis by Universal)”
This really isn’t that good of a movie, but it seems so much better in comparison to everything that has come out so far this year. A fairly generic premise rides on the strength of Neeson’s performance, suspense, and the visceral violence of the killers. But it all seems vaguely familiar in a way that never lets it quite stick with you.
That isn’t to say the Neeson doesn’t put in another tour de force performance. He melds with the noir elements as a gritty, troubled soul just trying to make amends. His redemption arc at the end is filmed in a clever and unexpected way that builds on the performance to that point. Director Scott Frank deserves credit for pulling in elements of “Boondock Saints” and classic noir films into his camera work, all while not detracting from Neeson’s ability to capture the essence of the film in his performance.
Yet for all the clever camera work, most of this film feels like a restraint aiming for a PG-13 rating. Prior to the finale, the script does little but dip a toe across the line of an R rating. Throw in an obligatory F-bomb from the sassy black kid; show some grainy footage of the kidnapped girls getting threatened. Generally less is more with this genre, but the feel of indecision about the intended rating throws the whole film off-kilter. It is groping around trying to find true darkness for the characters.
The difficulty in trying to pin down this movie (say, for a review…) is that it is so neutral that there aren’t many memorable points to touch on. It isn’t particularly bad or good. It is adequate Saturday afternoon filler. It hits all the major points, does a few clever things with the camera, and utilizes a star’s talent to drive the script. This is an alley-oop instead of a slam dunk. It isn’t going to stick with you despite the dark subject matter. Six months from now you’ll hold this DVD case in one hand and “The Grey” in the other. Then you’ll choose “The Grey” to see a wolf get punched in the face.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: See it.
TWO AND A HALF STARS out of four. I really wanted Neeson to belt out some classic Gibson towards the end. Alas, we’ll have to wait for the deleted scenes on the DVD.
Directed by Scott Frank
Rated R for strong violence, disturbing imagery, language, and brief nudity.
Runtime: 1 hour and 54 mins.