What’s become of Liam Neeson?
The aquiline Northern Irishman, best known for the likes Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, and Kinsey, became an unlikely action hero when, at the age of fifty-six, he starred in the Luc Besson-produced Taken. As CIA operative turned vengeful father Bryan Mills, he proceeded to beat, shoot, and gruffly threaten his way through the whole of the Albanian mob, a French policeman, and one Middle Eastern Sheikh.
It was a novel career move for the former Qui-Gon Jinn/Ducard, but since then its been mostly the same.
Having glowered his way through Clash and Wrath of the Titans, grumbled his way through The A-Team, taken on wolves in The Grey, aliens in Battleship, and amnesia in Unknown, Neeson fell comfortably back into Mills mode for Non-Stop and Taken 2.
Now, as cop-turned-P.I. Matt Scudder, he unfortunately coasts his way through A Walk Among the Tombstones. It’s mostly not his fault: the film gives him nothing new to do, beyond the well-worn beats of a penitent and tormented former scumbag; and – warning – the trailer ruins every one.
After a promising opening scene – check that cocky, scruffy dude doing a little jig down the steps – Neeson quickly finds himself saddled with a much duller character: cleaned-up, clean-shaven, cynical, dour, and lacking much by the way of charm.
As such, when he’s approached by shadily affluent Kenny Kristo (a rangy Dan Stevens; too much intensity, too little sleaze) – via Kenny’s junkie brother (Boyd Holbrook), a fellow AA member – Scudder’s quick to turn him down, but there’s a murdered woman to be considered and a pair of psychos on the loose.
The main issue from A Walk Among the Tombstones is that it shows us nothing we haven’t seen before: Se7en meets Taken, with just a dash of True Detective; unlike the work of David Fincher, there’s no sharpness or clarity to the material. Scudder’s relationship with world-wise street kid T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley) feels calculated to reveal his hidden depths, but Scudder has none.
Meanwhile, their contrast aside – tall, short, glib, silent, etc., etc – we’re never given any real insight into the killers’ motivations. The film has nothing to say on them.
Overall, A Walk Among the Tombstones feels a bit like an episode of Law & Order or Luther – minus Ruth Wilson, whose role as Scudder’s partner was cut. There’s competently nourish direction from Scott Frank, Carlos Rafael Rivera’s tragic, otherworldly soundtrack, some upsetting sexual violence. The film may be better than 8 Million Ways to Die, the first film to feature the character of Matt Scudder (played by Jeff Bridges), back in 1986.
8 Million Ways had the distinction of being Hal Ashby’s last film; Walk Among the Tombstones just sort of sits there.