Plot: Set in 1999, an ex-cop turned private investigator, Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is hired by a notorious drug dealer (Dan Stevens) to find the psychotic kidnappers who killed his wife.
If you’re expecting the typical Liam Neeson actioner where he’s throwing people into walls and snapping necks left and right, you’ll be disappointed. While Neeson does play an ex “fill in the blank” law enforcement guy for about the nineteenth time, this is more of a detective thriller in the vein of Seven. In fact, I would classify this as a JV Seven. Keep in mind, calling something a JV Seven is not a knock. If anything, that’s a huge compliment. While nothing about A Walk Among the Tombstones blew me away, its got solid supporting roles, creepy villains, and a story that keeps you engaged all the way through. But of course its main draw is the one and only man himself, Liam Neeson.
I’m not going to pretend like Neeson hasn’t played this character before. He’s the tortured ex bad ass who gets wrapped up in a case that brings him full circle. We aren’t breaking any ground here. With Liam Neeson though, I never get tired of it. He’s always great playing these characters. Neeson is like the Phillip Rivers of movies – he’ll never put up huge stats like a Peyton Manning, but he’s always consistent, and keeps you competitive. The only difference in this one is that he doesn’t beat up any henchmen. Although, he does have a bad ass phone scene very reminiscent of Taken. It’s all about Neeson’s character Matt Scudder locating two specific guys, and that was a refreshing change of pace. He actually has to figure stuff out, as opposed to bashing people’s heads in.
That brings us to the villains of the story. They are more front and center than usual in these types of movies, but I liked it. They straddle the line between creepy psychos and comic book villains beautifully. I liked that they weren’t just throw away villains, because it creates a sense of want for the audience. You really want to see Liam Neeson catch these scumbags, and that’s what keeps you engaged, despite what problems the story might have.
Aside from the villains, there’s a solid barrage of supporting characters as well. One of the more intriguing characters was Kenny (Dan Stevens) who hires Scudder to find the killers. He was interesting to watch, because you can tell he’s about to crack throughout the whole movie. This reaches a boiling point for a great pay off at the end. Kenny’s brother Peter (Boyd Hobrook) is a drug addict who Scudder befriends in AA. He’s a sympathetic character, but his act wears a little thin. The film also delivers on characters who pop in for little screen, but play key roles. Olafur Darri Olafsson plays Jonas, a small but crucial role in Scudder’s case, and a character that really leaves you wanting more.
The other major character of note is TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), a homeless kid who Scudder develops a bond with. This was a little forced at first, but as the film goes on, the character grows on you. TJ is basically like The Kid in Dick Tracy.
As much as I enjoyed the characters, there were some writing and directing problems, which were helmed by the same guy, Scott Frank. He also co-wrote Marley & Me. Wow. Talk about diversifying yourself. One of my biggest problems is when Scudder makes a choice towards the end of act two that made absolutely no sense, but felt like an excuse to shoehorn in an added dilemma that did not need to be there. My biggest hang-up with the last half hour though is with some of the editing. Not only is the third act drawn out, but they intercut it with Scudder’s personal demons that seemed completely unnecessary. It didn’t fit at all, and was just a complete failed attempt to go artsy. The ending is still effectively tense, but if they cut out this malarkey, it could have been even better.
If you’re looking for a tight character centric private dick movie without any stupid plot twists, you’re pretty safe here. This is very straightforward, and the audience was definitely into it. They even clapped at times. Liam Neeson strikes again.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.