I first heard about A Walk Among the Tombstones a little over 10 years ago when it was supposed to be Harrison Ford and Joe Carnahan. So it’s funny that it finally got done now that Liam Neeson is a bankable action hero, when it’s not really an action movie. It’s got a cool title though. Sounds like a western, frankly.
Matthew Scudder (Neeson) is a private detective hired to find a missing girl. It’s an old school detective story as he interviews suspects and pieces together clues, revealing his own tragic backstory along the way. As one does, because no one seems to get good at saving the day without suffering themselves. I shouldn’t make light of tropes. They’re good tropes.
That’s essentially the thing with A Walk Among the Tombstones. It’s nothing new, but it’s a solid rendition of a modern day detective story. What really makes it click is that each suspect is a full character. They’re not just one dimensional types to give Scudder new information, although some of them definitely toy with familiar archetypes. They are, for the most part, fully articulated characters who offer unique interactions for Scudder.
The story has a refreshing take on hostage negotiations too. We’ve all seen films like Ransom or Proof of Life where they have to follow a certain procedure to keep the negotiations moving, not give in to terrorists but not risk the hostage’s safety either. Well, Scudder knows how to play it. It’s “look, you want money, we want the girl alive, if either one of us f***s up we’re both screwed,” but it’s not B.S.
The film does climax with an action packed confrontation, as these things also tend to do. It’s a good one, probably enough to cut a Liam Neeson trailer out of, maybe just enough to satisfy Taken fans or at least a forgiving September crowd. It’s clearly not the focus of the film.
A subplot involving Scudder helping a homeless kid (Astro) seems a big superfluous. It is incorporated as a way that makes him a young assistant, explaining new technology to old school Scudder. That’s a little thin though. It’s really to make sure Scudder is likable. Sure, he’s a loner and has all these demons, but he’s helping a kid so he must be all right. We don’t need that.
Speaking of technology, I guess this takes place in the ‘90s, which would have been close to when it was first supposed to be made. That avoids prolific cell phone usage and lets us see a good old microfiche scene. We’re just at that point where ‘90s counts as a period piece and not a lot of films have taken advantage of that yet.
Ultimately, A Walk Among the Tombstones is an entertaining mystery. Not necessarily a whodunnit because we meet the bad guys early. More of a “how the hell is he going to save her” if that’s a thing. I would see more Matthew Scudder mysteries, which is clearly what they’re hoping. You don’t option number 10 in a book series as a one off. If it weren’t my job to see it though, Scudder films wouldn’t be my top priority. It’s good casual viewing.