17th Sep2014

‘A Walk Among the Tombstones’ Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: Liam Neeson, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, Dan Stevens, Maurice Compte, Laura Birn, David Harbour, Kim Rosen, Adam David Thompson, Eric Nelsen, Razane Jammal, Sebastian Roché, Danielle Rose Russell | Written and Directed by Scott Frank

Tombstones-cast

Liam Neeson used to have a reputation for being a serious actor, starring in serious films. In recent years however, Neeson has gotten himself a new reputation for being very serious but also for kicking people very hard in the face. In A Walk Among the Tombstones, Neeson plays a hard man searching for a missing daughter who has been… taken. But Neeson employs a different set of special skills in this film – he’s an ex-cop turned private detective, with a dark past, under the employ of a local drug dealer, whose wife has been kidnapped and killed. As Neeson looks into the case, it becomes clear that the kidnappers have struck before and will do so again.

The film is set in 1999 and the shadow of the millennium bug hangs over the film in its adverts and headlines, giving the thing a sense of foreboding (having said that, I may have been quite young but I can’t remember there being quite so many ‘the bug will end us all’ front pages at the time). There’s a real sense of doom, almost bordering on the gothic. Neeson is very good indeed, striking a balance between deeply flawed, hangdog pessimist and quietly unstoppable force. There is a strong supporting cast, with newcomer Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley impressing in particular as a street kid that tags along with Neeson as he progresses through the case. There’s a pseudo father-son relationship between Neeson and Bradley as the detective strives to protect the boy from the violent world around him.

The film has basically nothing for any female characters to do (short of be chopped up into little pieces), which is disappointing. Every time the plot progresses, it’s generally because some hideous act of violence has happened to a woman. The antagonists target their victims because they are women. I believe that there is a world of difference between depicting misogyny and a film being misogynistic and I would suggest that A Walk Among the Tombstones falls into the former camp, even if it is largely an exercise in utilising the women in refrigerators trope. It’s a shame that a film I otherwise really enjoyed could have been that bit more enjoyable if it chose to empower at least one woman at some point.

Screenwriter and director Scott Frank does a fine job bringing Lawrence Block’s novel to the screen, depicting a moody, grungy New York City that feels as threatening as it does sprawling, populated by Russian drug dealers and weirdo cemetery workers. A particularly tense scene in which Neeson is confronted by the latter (played brilliantly by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) is a great example of the quality of some of the scriptwriting too.

Asides from the lack of decent roles for women, my only other minor concerns with A Walk Among the Tombstones were that its climax is dragged out for about twenty minutes more than it needs to be and that the religious undertones are perhaps overplayed during this sequence. However, it’s a meaty film to get into, much like a particularly compelling novel. It also proves that Neeson is still more than capable of flexing his acting muscles and carrying a more serious film, whilst also giving the fans who need him kicking arse and taking names plenty to savour too.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is released on Friday September 19th.

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