Wednesday 17 September 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones review

A Walk Among the Tombstones (15/R, 114 mins)
Director: Scott Frank
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Anyone expecting more of the kind of escapades that have become Liam Neeson’s bread and butter in the last few years may find themselves surprised, though hopefully not disappointed by his latest. Instead of the marauding action man we’ve become accustomed to, he’s a thinker and puzzle solver here. But though it may not be personal, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to get deeply involved.

Neeson is Matt Scudder, a one-time New York cop turned private investigator, and the protagonist of several books by crime writer Lawrence Block. Jeff Bridges played Scudder in 8 Million Ways to Die back in the 80s, but that’s the only time the character has been brought to the screen until now.

We first meet Scudder in a prologue that shows us how, in his cop days, he was a big fan of shooting first and asking questions later. But now it’s the late 90s and Scudder is asked by Dan Stevens to find the men who killed his wife; they're some very nasty types, which takes him into a murky world of serial killers and drug traffickers.

There’s a lot of talking, but it’s all done in the course of actual detective work, which you don’t see a lot of these days. We see Scudder do a lot of walking and observing, and talking rather than punching his way through the film. He’s more likely to take a beating than give one, and even talks his way out of a fight at one point.

It’s not brisk, but it’s lean, able to get to the point with a minimum of fuss thanks to economic writing that does its very best to avoid cliché. So though Scudder is a recovering alcoholic with a dark past, it doesn’t make a big thing of it.

There’s an emptiness and a brooding menace to the way it’s filmed that really makes it feel less like the 90s and more like the 70s, which when it comes to this sort of film can only be a good thing. It’s the sort of thing Robert Mitchum and Sidney Lumet would have gone to town on back then.

But though the likes of Marlowe is referenced frequently by Scudder and the young associate who he takes under his wing, this isn’t Elliot Gould we’re talking about here, it’s Liam Neeson. We learn almost nothing of his personal life and see him do nothing but work the case, which results in a steady build of tension with the possible assurance that he’s going to do something violent and exciting at some point.

But that’s secondary to the rock solid detective plot, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a good sturdy mystery thriller such as this.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. Answered exactly the preconceptions on my mind.