Haggard NYPD sot Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is enduring one of what must be an ongoing series of “don’t fuck my shit up” conversations with his partner, as A Walk Among the Tombstones opens, in 1991. Scudder’s the kind of cop who takes his coffee with an extra shot of whiskey, not espresso, but that doesn’t get in the way of his aim; when Dominican Banger #1 and Dominican Banger #2 — seriously, read the credits — hold up his favorite bar and cap the owner, Matt shoots them dead in the street and clips a third in the leg.
Eight years later, that story hasn’t gotten old; at least no one in the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings says so when Scudder tells the tale of the day he quit drinking. These days he’s a cleaned-up and clean-shaven private investigator who “accepts gifts” from people for whom he “does favors” (read: unlicensed). His newest friend is Kenny (Dan Stevens), drug trafficking brother to Scudder’s twitchy AA pal, Howie (Eric Nelsen).
Kenny’s wife has been kidnapped and subsequently killed, despite the fact that he paid up and didn’t call the cops. Now he wants to not call the cops again, but for an entirely different reason. See, he was short of what the kidnappers had originally demanded — insert “slashing prices” joke — so they sent her back in pieces. It’s Scudder’s job to arrange some quality time for Kenny with Sick Fuck #1 and Sick Fuck #2... er, Ray and Albert (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson).
While on the trail, Scudder meets T.J., a homeless, cynical youth whose mastery of the mystical wonders known as Yahoo! and the Internet in general allow for a slightly more practical approach than the microfilm of Scudder’s milieu. With all these amazing team members, Scudder can’t help but look forward to a swift and easy resolution, right?
With its tired parade of cliched, archetypal, barely sympathetic characters, A Walk Among the Tombstones offers nothing new. The freshest part is that, perhaps, Universal Pictures has changed up their pre-credits intro music. Helmsman-scribe Scott Frank seems to do better wearing the writer’s hat (Minority Report, Out of Sight) than sitting in the director’s chair (excepting The Lookout, which he also penned); Walk trudges along and stumbles during the final stretch. While thematically and cinematographically dark, it’s rarely as gritty as you’d like.
Pulled from the collective works of novelist Lawrence Block, the Matthew Scudder character is an allegory for dark redemption, a sooty phoenix rising from the gutter. Great for Liam Neeson, right? But, as an alcoholic, Scudder isn’t written for the screen to be as formidable as Taken’s Bryan Mills character, Priest Vallon from Gangs of New York or any of our other favorite Neeson roles. Scudder also lacks the requisite frailty he’d need to endear us and compensate for being lower on the badass scale, although Neeson drops some memorably funny lines in this otherwise drab crime drama.
Liam Neeson fans in the mood to see him drop some perps and more f-bombs than usual can plod their way into theaters for A Walk Among the Tombstones; fans of thrilling crime dramas might want to keep on walking.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Rated R. Written and directed by Scott Frank. Starring Liam Neeson, David Harbour, Adam David Thompson, Dan Stevens, Eric Nelsen and Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley. Now playing.