A Walk Among the Tombstones review: more measured than the average Neeson punch-up

Liam Neeson: tough, uncompromising, flawed . . . you know the deal


Director: Scott Frank

Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook

Genre: Action

Running Time: 113 min

Fri, Sep 19, 2014, 00:00


The trailer for the latest Liam Neeson thriller is deceptive in unexpected fashion. We are used to such material concealing the fact that there is singing in musicals or distracting attention from the foreignness of subtitled pictures. But something else is going on here.

The promo sells A Walk Among the Tombstones as a violent thriller during which Liam Neeson punches one hoodlum through a window. We have no arguments here. The film certainly is fairly tasty with its mitts and Neeson does, indeed, punch somebody through a window.

But all the promotional material gives the impression that – as is the way in recent Neeson pictures – the hero is on an unstoppable rampage exacting revenge for some east-European outrage.

There are abductions at the heart of Scott Frank’s picture. We are, however, looking at something just a little more measured than the average Neeson punch-up. Adapted from one of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder books, A Walk Among the Tombstones is that rarest of things: a contemporary Private Eye story.

Well, that’s not quite right. As Scudder explains, he is not officially licensed. After accidentally causing the death of a child, he retired from the NYPD and now does people favours for money.

In this story, the tough, uncompromising, flawed hero (you know the deal) finds himself helping out a drug dealer (an unlikely Dan Stevens) whose wife has been kidnapped by psychopathically ruthless hoodlums.

Neeson is, it hardly needs to be said, well suited to this sort of scuffed hero. The film discovers some underexplored New York locations and the story unfolds at a digestible pace as it unearths tricky moral ambiguities. Scott (director of the unfairly overlooked The Lookout) has, however, allowed one peculiar, distracting undercurrent to bubble about the film’s toes.

Set in late 1999, the film features endless references to the millennial bug and then, in the last few minutes, reveals that we should have been worrying about something else altogether. Why are you telling us this now?