film reel image

film reel image

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones 2014 * * * Stars

A Walk Among the TombstonesDirector: Scott Frank
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook

In Liam Neeson's latest endeavor A Walk Among the Tombstones, he does in fact do a lot of walking. He walks along sidewalks, past street corners, through graveyards (I'm thinking that's how the film got its title), and up on rooftops. He still gives you a daily dose of badassery, Neeson style. But this time it's not about the action, it's more about the emoting or fleshing out of his character. Don't worry, it's still his type of movie. He has a special set of skills, we know this. And you still get the obligatory phone call in which he tells off the villains kidnapping his friend, or his daughter, or his acquaintance, or whatever. Oh and by the way, he will find you, he will kill you, and so on and so on. Yeah, it's time to get Neesoned again and now, it's planned out in a sort of conventional, routine way.

Directed by the guy that wrote 1998's critically acclaimed Out of Sight and featuring a couple of psychopaths cutting off a woman's breast and amputating two fingers from a 14 year old (to get a certain amount of ransom money, oy vey), A Walk Among the Tombstones is a warped character study involving a retired cop in Matthew Scudder (Neeson). The film takes place circa 1991 and then fast forwards to fall of 1999, the Y2K era. Scudder is a private investigator who no longer works for any law enforcement. He's out on his own, doing quote unquote "favors" for people who need their loved ones found and their enemies brought to justice. Scudder's assignment: to find the killers of a drug dealer's wife (newcomer Dan Stevens plays the half-rich trafficker) who demanded $400,000 all the while eventually killing said wife.

Despite harnessing a hard R rating, "Tombstone" has a sick and twisted side without being as grotesque as most critics have led you to believe. Most of the torture scenes are masked. You think about them but you're spared the sight of the debauchery. That's a good thing because director Scott Frank is more geared toward being a mild film noir storyteller than anything else. His screenplay is deft and intelligent and although he exhibits some noir tendencies, he avoids filming anything in black and white (that makes sense because "Tombstone" wouldn't work as a 1940's/50's relic).

Now if you haven't seen A Walk Among the Tombstones yet, know that you're going to be taken back by its mild nostalgia. The opening credits have an old school feel about them, like a font from the 1970's or 80's. Then there's the film score that although written by Carlos Rafael Rivera, feels like something the late Michael Small would have thought up when he wrote the music to The Parallax View and Marathon Man. You also get to see its star the way you see other actors become human while taking a beating like a normal, vulnerable person. Remember when Clint Eastwood took a break from being Dirty Harry to be a mountaineer in The Eiger Sanction? Or when Harrison Ford donned his butt-kicking persona in Raiders of the Lost Ark to getting pushed around in Blade Runner? If you're a fan of Neeson's indestructible menace in Taken, you might view "Tombstone" and think "bummer". I say phooey! This is Liam emoting more so than breaking some paper villain's neck. It's him doing the Philip Marlowe thing, the Law and Order thing, the you know, detective thing. It's refreshing and it rises above the stale, sort of cliched material (another anti-hero, ex-cop who used to drink and has past demons) that "Tombstone" abbreviates for a majority of its running time.

Of note: I dug the spot-on, clean cut direction of "Tombstone" by Floridian Frank. And as much as I worship my favorite Irish actor, I couldn't get over the missteps in his stance as a independent, non-affiliated private investigator. Within the film's conclusion (spoiler alerts), he kills a bunch of bad guys, leaves a bloody mess, and doesn't get questioned by real cops with badges. He eludes them, gets on a subway, and goes to his apartment as if nothing ever happened. Whatever. And what's with him using a twelve-step program as a mindset to infiltrate the maimed killers? The familiar or better yet similar concept worked in Frank's The Lookout (you know, the phrase, "whoever has the money, has the power!"). Here, it just feels out of place and juvenile by comparison.

All in all, despite silent flashbacks that somewhat deflate any dramatic tension, a couple of irrelevant side plots involving alcoholism, and the slight befriending of a homeless kid by the protagonist, I'm gonna recommend this thing strictly because of the ripe, 62 year-old Neeson. As long as he stays away from comedy, I feel that his performances in action/crime dramas are as reliable as daylight savings time and as comfortable as a pair of worn out loafers. If you wanna see another Taken, you won't get that here. You'll have to wait for the third one which is coming out in January of 2015. In regards to his current release, A Walk Among the Tombstones, it's not going to blow you away or change your view of sadistic, gloom and doom crime thrillers. It is however, a form of normalcy when it comes to your everyday genre conventions. What we have here is for the most part, a solid "walk" to remember.

Written by Jesse Burleson

No comments:

Post a Comment