Sunday, 2 November 2014

A Walk Among The Tombstones

The most important thing you have to know about this movie: It's not Taken.

"A Walk Among The Tombstones" is Scott Franks second feature film, starring Liam Neeson as unlicensed private investigator Matt Scudder. He gets hired by a drug dealer to find the people that kidnapped and killed his wife. Reluctantly, he embarks on an investigation that will lead him to some dark and sinister places. And it makes for a pretty entertaining movie.

It's easy to forget what a great actor Liam Neeson is, considering his last few leading roles were rather unchallenging variations on Brian Mills, his break-out action role. Reportedly, the actor is himself very aware of that, going so far that he almost threw the script for this movie out when he read one of the key scenes that has him threaten the villains of the movie over the phone. Luckily he didn't, because apart from that, the movie bears little likeness to Taken, but turns out to be more of a Film Noir thriller, dark and dialogue-driven.

Neesons gravitas and immense presence are well-known by now and he uses all of this intensity for this role. And the effort is not wasted, Matthew Scudder being a very deep character, the star of a whole series of books. There are a lot of nuances to be found and Neeson fills the Noir archetype of the broken hero perfectly.

The two antagonists, played by David Harbour and Adam David Thompson, work just as well, clearly relishing the opportunity to go full-on creepy. The two wouldn't feel out of place if you just threw them into a horror-movie as they are now.

Regrettably, there are some weaker parts to the ensemble. Maurice Comptes drug dealer stays very much inside all stereotypes and is even upstaged in his clichéedness when we meet a russian mobster, in full tracksuit and sporting a thick accent.

My main problem however was TJ, the young homeless boy who crosses Scudders path repeatedly and then becomes an integral part to the story for some reason. The acting by Brian "Astro" Bradley is alright, but the character in itself has so many flaws and inconsistencies, it took me out of the movie at times. First, his insistence on reminding the audience that they are watching a Film Noir. He is frequently only one step away from breaking the fourth wall and telling the audience: "Get it, like in "The Maltese Falcon"." That might have been on the nose but acceptable, were it reflected in the rest of the characters behaviour. But there are almost two sides to his character. The other side is him being a normal, slightly rude boy, obsessed with superheroes and afflicted with sickle-cell anaemia, which sounds random, but it will become important later, so better remember that.
Overall, as Film Noir deal in archetypes anyway, his character in my opinion could have just been replaced with some version of a femme fatal, whom this movie desperately lacks.
My final gripe with the movie would be that, in the hands of a more experienced director, there was a lot more atmosphere to be found in the material. If you are going to be as obvious as this movie is about what it wants to be, there is no shame in reflecting that in your style. What we get is absolutely serviceable, but nothing special.

Overall, "A Walk Among The Tombstones" is a fine piece of entertainment, different from what we usually get these days, and I want to see more of it. If there are going to be sequels however, there are still areas that need improvement.

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