A Walk Among The Tombstones (2014) – Review

Directed by Scott Frank
Written by Scott Frank from Lawrence Block
Starring Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour
Private investigator Matthew Scudder is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.

Liam Neeson continues his initially inexplicable rise as an aging, gruff action hero. What next, The Expendables, maybe? Here he plays the part of ex-policeman and now unlicenced private investigator Matthew Scudder, adapted here from Lawrence Block’s novel by writer/director Scott Frank (The Lookout). Employed by Downton Abbey’s own Dan Stevens’ kingpin Kenny Kristo to catch the kidnappers and subsequent murderers of his wife, Scudder needs to follow a breadcrumb trail that brings him into contact with some less than savoury characters. He has a very special set of skills, y’see, and he very much appreciates ‘gifts’.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you may well be put in mind of HBO’s True Detective, seeing as the streets are grubby and the furtive villains are (unsurprisingly) not to be trusted. Everything is grey, both in style and demeanour, giving the whole project an air of forbidding, nervous inevitability. The good guys may have to do bad things in order to get the job done, but by god, they will still get it done regardless, even if it means they end up washed out husks of their former selves. Fighting crime is not a pretty job and if you didn’t know that by now, then where have you been?

In the course of his detections he seems to get some very useful information from every average Joe on the street, seemingly without having to try too hard. According to the movie, it seems everyone saw everything as the information Matthew requires seems to fall right into his lap just as he needs it, which seems a little too convenient, and if the film has aspirations as being as good as the aforementioned True Detective, or even the likes of Seven, then the plot needs to be much more polished than what we’re offered here.

The performance from Neeson is pretty much what we have come to expect from him these days, forgoing most work that tests his actual acting abilities in favour of a rich vein of profiteering that he seems to be enjoying at the moment, simply by shooting guns and looking annoyed for large portions of the films he turns up in. Matthew makes the acquaintance of a young man in the library, who also seems to be conveniently useful for no apparent legitimate reason which again gives the audience the feeling that this is all just too simple and contrived. Having not read the book, we would have to assume that the story that is told in the novel is a good deal more atmospheric and considered. If not, I would struggle to convince anyone to read it, not that it would take too long.

Dan Stevens turns up for his second notable Hollywood project in as many weeks, racing up behind The Guest which hit theatres in the UK only recently. His performance here is less convincing and, if we’re honest, less demanding than the unhinged visitor he played in his other outing this autumn. The role of Kenny Kristo, drug trafficker, is if not wholly one-dimensional, then certainly not challenging for a man clearly capable of much more.

In all, this will neither impress anyone too much nor test the patience too harshly. It is entertaining throughout but never reaches the grand heights that it aims for, lacking enough tension to make it an edge of the seat experience or novel or twisty enough to impress those that love a good story. Trying to be gruesome, it occasionally succeeds, but it just feels like Scott Frank is trying too hard to rattle the sabre of ‘uncomfortable reality’ without really convincing anyone. Unfortunately for all concerned, this lacks a crucial scene that stands out for audiences to be thrilled by and talk about.Without this, A Walk Among The Tombstones will quickly become just another average detective drama that you think you might have seen but won’t remember that you have until you’re ten minutes into it the second time around.

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