I apologize for the delay in this review. I’ve been having trouble with FedEx the past month and it’s made it difficult to watch new releases in time for review deadlines. Typically I wouldn’t address issues with a courier service, but A Walk Among the Tombstones deserves a second life on home video. Domestically, the film was a failure (it fared better overseas), but the quality of this particular picture shouldn’t be judged based on audience indifference. More akin to a late 70s/early 80s character driven thriller than the action films Neeson has made recently, this is a great movie.
Based on a series of books by author Lawrence Block, writer/director Scott Frank (one of the finest screenwriters working today) has constructed an immaculate script both in structure, tone and dialogue. That screenplay, coupled with Frank’s tight direction, Director of Photography Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s gorgeous cinematography, and the riveting score by composer Carlos Rafael Rivera, create a dark, menacing world that is perfectly inhabited by Neeson and his co-stars, including Dan Stevens (who continues to impress me after starring in The Guest), David Harbour (who is chilling in the film) and up and comer young actor, Astro.
Neeson stars as Matt Scudder, an ex-cop and recovering alcoholic who now does unlicensed private investigating work for clients who want to pay in cash and keep the cops out of the picture (if possible). A brief prologue set in 1991 shows the events that lead to Scudder quitting the force and putting down the bottle. After that, we jump ahead to 1999, and Scudder is well established in his new line of work. One evening, Scudder is approached by Peter (Boyd Holbrook), a junkie who attends the same AA meetings as he does. Peter’s brother has a situation and needs help, Scudder’s kind of help.
Reluctantly, Scudder meets the brother, Kenny (Stevens), one of the biggest heroin dealers in New York. Kenny’s wife was abducted and the kidnappers demanded a ransom for her. Kenny paid an agreed upon amount, and the kidnappers returned his wife in pieces; her body parts chopped up and sealed in garbage bags. Repulsed by this heinous crime, Scudder goes against his better judgment to work for Kenny. He soon finds a connection between this crime and a series of similar brutal murders, all dealing with drug dealers and their wives. Along the way, he finds a protégée in the guise of TJ (Astro), a homeless teen who’s smarter than he is tough.
I particularly liked the relationship between Scudder and TJ. Scudder doesn’t take the kid under his wing the first chance he gets. Instead, he’s wary of the teen and does the best to keep him out of his life. At times, the PI is cold and mean, but Scudder doesn’t want to be tied down because of the line of work he does. But TJ grows on Scudder, just as he did me as the film progressed.
Simultaneous to the plot involving Scudder and his investigation, Frank introduces us to Ray (Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson), the two psychopaths who murdered Kenny’s wife and get their kicks out of torturing and raping women. Both seem like regular guys. They go about their lives casually, living in a nondescript suburban house and blending in with the scenery. They think they’re smarter than everyone else, until they meet their match in Scudder.
A Walk Among the Tombstones is contemporary noir in a post torture porn world. Frank never glamorizes the violence, but some of the more shocking scenes still made me cringe. Neeson dominates the film, appearing in nearly every scene. With very little action in the film, the veteran actor is given plenty of opportunity to remind us why he was nominated for an Academy Award back in 1993. This is the perfect Friday night flick, when you want to curl up under a blanket and get drawn into an intense mystery.
The Blu-ray has minimal special features, but does include a DVD and digital copy.