A Walk Among The Tombstones (2014)

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Directed by: Scott Frank

A few months ago I got rather excited about the trailer for ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ starring everyone’s favourite world weary middle aged arse kicker Liam Neeson. Adapted from one of the many of Lawrence Block’s novels about a New York based private detective named Matthew Scudder, ‘A Walk Amongst The Tombstones’ is a gripping movie that manages to overcome and niftily sidestep its flaws.

There was something about ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ which reminded me of Paul Auster’s ‘City of Glass’. It’s the way Scudder works in an old school detective fashion, sticking to what has always worked in order to track down the bad guys whilst simultaneously battling his own demons and dealing with this almost supernatural form of evil. There are moments of the film when Scudder appears lost, until a divine force guides him to the next piece in the jigsaw.

The film begins with a flashback, Neeson is taking a break in a café stoke bar. In an attempt to make him look younger, the make-up department have given him a goatee and a shaggy mane. He sits at the bar reading a paper, knocking back a cup of black coffee and two shots of whiskey – The breakfast of champions. This is important because it tells us that Matthew Scudder had an alcohol problem in those days, and he frequently drank on the job. A couple of crooks storm into the bar; they shoot the bartender with a shotgun and run out in the street. Scudder gives chase and successfully shoots the crooks. But something is amiss, and to avoid spoilers, what really happened on that fateful day is revealed later.

Whatever happened caused Scudder to leave the Police force. Fast forward to 1999, Scudder is a Private Detective; he takes on whatever work he can. When he’s not working he diligently attends alcoholics anonymous meetings. Scudder is contacted by the junkie brother of a former drug dealer. The drug dealer’s wife had been kidnapped and then murdered in a brutal fashion. The drug dealer wants to catch the men who killed his wife. At first Scudder is reluctant to get involved in what seems to be a turf war between rival dealers, but when more facts emerge Scudder is drawn in.

I don’t know if personal tragedy has influenced Neeson’s decision to play lonely men who wonder about their place on earth, but he does it well. He paces the grey streets, and his face fits, among the dark shadows and overcast skies. The supporting cast bring their own forms of bleakness – Boyd Holbrook’s unreliable dishevelled junkie, Olafur Darri Olafsson as the lonely perverted cemetery worker and David Harbour who is terrifying as Ray, the sadistic serial killer.

In adapting the novel the makers of this film decide to leave out a few key characters. The choice is deliberate, making Scudder a loner. But Scudder seeks help from a homeless teen called TJ, who he bumps into at the library. TJ’s ability to use modern technology helps Scudder in his hunt for the killers. TJ then gets in the way, literally, to Scudder’s annoyance, but for me TJ’s introduction hampers the flow of the film, causing Scudder to become this surrogate Father figure.

There’s always a danger that when you adapt from a novel you end up missing key parts of the story. The frantic finale of the film suggests that either the director or studio was afraid of sticking with what happens in ending of the novel, it means that we get a clusterfuck of death and gore which loses impact through poor execution.

– RJW

6/10

 

A Walk Among The Tombstones on IMDB

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Trailer Trash: A Walk Among The Tombstones

I think I lost faith in Liam Neeson as an actor, after almost accidentally reinventing himself as a veteran action hero in ‘Taken’ and putting in a sterling performance in the wonderfully bleak ‘The Grey’ he’s found himself over the last few years in a run of stinkers – the sequel to ‘Taken’, ‘Battleship’, ‘Wrath of the Titans’ and ‘Non-Stop’. Adapted from Lawrence Block’s novel ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ finally looks like a Neeson film worth watching.

The trailer begins with a black and white flashback, world weary private investigator Matthew Scudder (Neeson) was off duty killing time in a Cop bar, suddenly two guys come in and shoot the bartender, robbing the joint. Scudder chased the guys off into the street, and after discharging his weapon, an innocent bystander was hit by a stray round. Subsequently Scudder handed in his badge.

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The hook is that after that fateful day Scudder is a rogue, an unlicensed private detective who carries out favours and in return he receives gifts of cash. It looks like he has a lot of shady clients. A new client comes in and says that somebody has kidnapped his wife. From the trailer we hear a Dictaphone recording of what sounds like the abduction. The trailer picks up when Scudder answers his phone and a sinister voice says “I understand I have a new player in the game”; cue a haunting cover of Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ that will get many people scurrying off to download this song pronto. There’s something about Neeson answering the phone in trailers which really gets the juices going.

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It seems the trailer gives away a shocking moment for free, when a man who seems ready to give Scudder information about the kidnappers instead decides to jump of the roof of a tall building, presumably to his death, hopefully there is a twist because this seems like one of those genuine moments that shouldn’t be given away. The trailer finally builds to a crescendo creating a hive of fear and paranoia, as Scudder goes deeper into his investigation, putting his own life in jeopardy.

The exciting thing about this film is that the trailer gives off a slight Fincher vibe, recalling the suspense of films like ‘Se7en’ and ‘Zodiac’. It really does look like we could have a good Neeson film on her hands here.

– RJW

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