A Walk Among the Tombstones opens with Liam Neeson gruffly mumbling as he talks to a drug dealer, then going in a bar for two shots of whiskey and a coffee. We presume the coffee is black because men like Neeson’s Matt Scudder like it that way. Suddenly the bartender is shot, and Scudder is “scuddering” his way down the road, shooting bad guys as he goes. After he hits one in the leg, he walks after the limping fiend, just like Jason or Michael Myers in a horror movie. Finally, and naturally, the bad guy is shot dead.
If you’re a fan of Liam Neeson as a real badass (Taken, The Grey), there couldn’t be a better start. Scudder is tough, fearless, has a way with words and is not to be messed with. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie isn’t as enthralling as its beginning.
Eight years after the shooting, it’s 1999, and Matt Scudder is a retired detective, now working as an unlicensed private eye. Howie (Eric Nelsen), a drug addict Matt met in AA, asks the sleuth to help his brother Kenny (Dan Stevens) get revenge on the bad guys who kidnapped, raped and murdered Kenny’s wife. Matt demurs, then accepts — because if he didn’t, the movie would be about something else.
If you haven’t read the Lawrence Block best-seller on which writer and director Scott Frank (The Lookout) based this new film, at this point you’re probably thinking you’re in for a taut mystery-slash-thriller full of twists and suspense and intrigue. You’d be wrong on all three counts. There are no twists, the intrigue is distracted by the unfocused story, and the suspense could be a lot chair-grippingly better. Immediately after Scudder takes the case, he starts investigating something that’s tangentially connected, making us wonder: 1) What the hell is he doing? and 2) Why did he take the case in the first place? It’s not for the money or the glory. There’s no personal vendetta here for him. The fact that we’re never given an explanation for why Scudder takes the case is a major flaw; without a motive, it’s just a main character determinedly coursing through a plotline for no good reason.
The film is riddled with stereotypes. The token African-American character is T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley), a homeless whip-smart teenager who’s ungrateful and, surprisingly, likable. The character is superfluous, but his presence is welcome. The other minorities are all criminals, and the women are helpless victims who need a man to save them. The main villains are white, but mentally unhinged. Judging solely on casting and characters, the movie reflects the sensibilities of 1950s Hollywood, not 2014 or even the 21st century.
Yet another sign of mediocrity in A Walk Among the Tombstones pops up when Scudder says Y2K is in “six months,” suggesting that it’s some time in June in New York City. In the next scene, there are leaves all over the ground, it’s overcast and everyone is bundled up in coats. Having lived in NYC, it struck me as November, not June. It’s a small thing, but this misstep in attention to detail is indicative of the film’s more notable flaws, which, sadly, are plentiful.

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october, 2021