Oh don’t look at me like that: it’s mid-September. I didn’t have the energy for Tusk, I don’t feel like Maze Runner, and I couldn’t find a theater playing Zero Theorem. There’s not a lot playing right now.
Ahem. One of the more interesting developments in recent movie news is Liam Neeson’s rather abrupt shift from being a more serious dramatic actor into more of an action star. It’s a development I’ve overall been in favor of, since it works pretty well. Neeson is an imposing physical presence, a believable badass, and an excellent actor. While a lot of the movies haven’t worked, the ones that have worked almost entirely due to him. Taken remains an excellent ride of a movie, and The Grey is legitimately awesome. It’s not surprising therefore, that A Walk Among the Tombstones has hitched its ad campaign to that horse, which is a tiny bit disingenuous. Tombstones isn’t an action movie at all, it’s something closer to a hardbitten detective story. And while it’s not great, it’s probably one of the better new movies playing right now.
The plot (apparently based on a lengthy series of novels I’ve never heard of) is concerned with Matthew Scudder (Neeson), a former cop turned unlicensed detective in 1999. He is hired by a drug dealer (Dan Stevens) to find the men who kidnapped his wife. Okay so that’s a really cliche setup, but there’s also the novel twist that the men have already killed his wife, despite receiving the ransom.
Like the underrated (and much better) Prisoners from a year ago, the main gimmick of the movie is to insert a fairly over the top and nasty serial killer of the type you’d normally see in a Thomas Harris novel into an otherwise normal detective story and see how it goes. The end result is rather jagged, with the tone shifting rather hard depending on who we’re following, but it eventually settles into it’s groove when it hits it’s third act and starts to combine the two.
A lot of the credit for it working had to go to the director, Scott Frank (a talented screenwriter probably best known for working on Minority Report). He’s definitely got some directing chops, with a good understanding of how to use shadows and empty space but he really steps up to the plate in the third act. He’s definitely got some interesting techniques on display, and if nothing else I’m excited to see where he goes from here.
The other major contributor to keeping this movie’s head above water is Liam Neeson. His character is pretty boring on paper, as he rarely seems to be more than mildly bothered by any of the goings on. But he manages to make it work, transforming it into a quiet kind of strength, which pairs well with his backstory. He also seems to be taking the character and it’s world seriously, which helps put it head and shoulders over some of his more…recent films.
Okay, I’m definitely overselling it now, it’s still a rather flawed film. For starters, it’s weirdly paced and kind of unfocused. It’s got a couple of pretty major red herrings that are so obviously red herrings that they become distracting. There’s also a secondary character (a teenage sidekick, and if I could find a way to roll my eyes in writing, I would) who’s interesting on paper but mostly just hangs around without adding much. I have the sneaking suspicion, based mostly on the number of books in this series, that they’re planning on making this into a series, so they might be more interested in making sure the characters are setup for sequels. I’d normally ding the movie for that, but I’m speculating so it wouldn’t be fair.
I’m unsure of how worthwhile this movie would be without the great direction and Neeson’s performance. The script is weak and somewhat predictable but good in concept. I feel like the characters and world could use a better script, but that’s starting to stray into reviewing the movie you want, instead of the movie you have. Overall the movie is solid, but unremarkable. That makes it an enjoyable watch but unfortunately robs me of anything really interesting to say about it. So I guess this review gets to be shorter than usual. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended it right in the middle of a thought. Although I always felt meta jokes like that are hard to pull-
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he thinks Liam Neeson should threaten to beat a man to death over a billfold in all his movies.
– good mystery
– great direction
– Liam Neeson is pretty awesome in it
– inconsistent tone
– weak script
– too many obvious red herrings