Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Disturbing Images, Language and brief Nudity
Directed by: Scott Frank
Written by: Scott Frank
(based on the novel A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES by Lawrence Block)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Sebastian Roche, Whitney Able, Olafur Darri Olafsson, David Harbour & Eric Nelsen
During an intense phone conversation between Liam Neeson’s private eye and a serial killer, the psychopath describes his victims as “once they’re in the van, they’re just body parts.” This is one of many disturbing highlights in a noir-like thriller that’s currently being mistaken for just another “Liam Neeson waves a gun and shouts at people” story. WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is dark, like insanely dark and to boot screenwriter/director Scott Frank knows exactly how to play things in this intense thriller because a lot of the most horrifying parts are implied in dialogue or subtle hints at how sick certain characters really are. This is a damn great mystery that kept me on my toes and made well-worn clichés seem brand new again.
Matthew Scudder is a former cop turned private investigator. He does favors for people and they give him gifts. After coming across a particularly troubling case where a drug trafficker’s wife was kidnapped, her ransom was paid, and she was returned in pieces, Scudder gets down and dirty. He puts together that two sickos are kidnapping certain women for ransom and still getting their grisly rocks off by torturing, raping, and murdering these poor victims. As the case leads to many dead ends and red herrings, the psychos are looking at their next target. It’s a race against the clock for Scudder to take down this pair of lunatics and save as many lives as he can in the process.
WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES isn’t for everybody. That’s for damn sure. It’s full of dark content and moves at a deliberate pace. This is a slow burn, where the burn is very painful throughout the entire experience. I was entranced by the sheer amount of tension this film was soaked with. To say I was glued to the screen would be an understatement. If there wasn’t the obvious mystery and noir aspect overriding the film, I’d swear this is one of the creepier horror movies of the year. It’s also a movie where certain things that might initially seem silly work to maximum effect. The main character is a recovering alcoholic and that’s brought up throughout, but is also used as a great plot point and makes for a really creative style used during the climax (you’ll know what I mean when you see it). Also a homeless kid being used as a sidekick of sorts isn’t nearly as annoying as it first sounds. Brian Bradley was annoying in EARTH TO ECHO a few months ago, but brings a compelling performance and provides a couple of much-needed laughs in this grim story.
Aside from Liam Neeson, there aren’t any real really big names that stand out. Regardless of the known talent, everyone delivers in their characters. Neeson may also threaten someone over the phone at one point (which has become a staple in his films), but Matt Scudder is one of his meatiest roles thus far. He’s a likable anti-hero of sorts that goes off a moral compass and extreme lengths to see justice served. The film also sports two of the year’s best villains. These guys are vicious and the calm demeanor they commit their horrifying crimes with makes everything seem that much worse.
The biggest strength that WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES uses is in never fully letting the viewer know which direction the story is heading next. You can get pretty accurate ideas as to how everything will eventually turn out, but slow deliberate moments use every possible ounce of suspense. The disturbing content will turn a lot of people off, but I didn’t have a problem with it. I did have a problem with flaws that are too big to ignore story-wise. A handful of coincidences seem awfully too convenient for these characters. Also the ending wraps a couple of plot elements up too easily. Both of these might have been a result of interest in keeping the running time under two hours, but they both sort of irked me just enough for the thought of “Wow, it’s good thing that worked out for them” to pass through my mind.
Despite a couple of overly convenient plot developments and an ending that wraps up a little too neatly, WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is an extraordinarily good thriller. The dark subject matter is handled well and tastefully, leaving the nasty bits mainly to your imagination. Clichés do make their way into the story, but I wasn’t too annoyed or bothered by them in this story. It actually lends to the enjoyment during moments. Don’t go into this movie expecting another action film starring Neeson, because this is a creepy slow-burn that takes its time in tormenting the viewer. As the end credits began rolling (with Nouela’s eerie cover of Black Hole Sun), I walked out of the theater very satisfied. If you’re a fan of thrillers like PRISONERS, SE7EN or 8MM, then you’ll probably enjoy this WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES!