Overview: Detective Matthew Scudder accepts a case involving the kidnapping of a drug trafficker’s wife. Based on Lawrence Block’s novel. Universal Pictures; 2014; Rated R; 113 Minutes.
Just Gonna Say It: A Walk Among the Tombstones is a dumb movie. Normally, I’d consider it in poor taste to begin a movie review with an insult, but here it feels necessary given the cheap effort the film makes to trick the viewer into thinking otherwise. This movie is as decorated in literature as shamelessly as Jason Statham movies are decorated in Audi cars. In different scenes, shots are carefully arranged to reveal characters reading books by Vladimir Nabokov and Madeleine L’Engle. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are brought up in conversation on two different occasions. But Screenwriter/Director Scott Frank’s movie doesn’t possess even a fraction of the passion and control of the cinematic language that Nabokov and L’Engle hold over their respective written languages. And Frank’s characters are completely lacking the energy that is staple to the construct of Hammet and Chandler’s famous fictional detectives. Case in point, the young character who conjures the detective comparison seems written into this movie for two generic purposes: 1.) To permit a series of embarrassing dialogue skits lean on the hollow comedic value of ebonics (the story takes place in 1999, so I guess this is sort of topical?) and 2.) To extend the lifeless story for one more boring chapter by sneaking into a van after the big confrontation.
Other Offenses: For most of the film, the villains are presented as pure sadists who kill for fetishistic sport, while monetary gain is seen as a bonus. But, when the story backs into a corner, these ambitions are switched and the villains allow themselves to be confronted and cornered, then surrender the victim for the sake of the money, which is completely counter to everything we’ve been told about them.
The film provides fruitless peripheral observation of the Y2K anxiety, not for any thematic purpose, but just to allow a spoken tagline (you can find it on the poster).
None of the scenes that should carry weight have significant impact. When a witness makes a suicidal leap off a rooftop, it’s not even worthy of a blink. When Scudder is pulled into a van by investigating cops, his verbal attempts to throw them off while collecting information are so snoozeworthy that I knew I had to write them down or forget they happened.
Sadness: If Liam Neeson ever again plays a character who enjoys his job, he may win an Oscar by default. I’m not just speaking toward his strange stretch of grieving and vulnerable action/thriller heroes, though with every subsequent iteration (Taken, Taken 2, Taken by Wolves, Taken on a Plane), this recycled character becomes more and more grating. Reluctantly, I have to criticize the actor himself. Over the last half-decade , since a heartbreaking personal tragedy, Neeson has exhibited an evident lack of interest in his own performances. In A Walk Among the Tombstones, he offers only a lifeless, uninspired, sad-eyed script-reading so pathetic it almost has me reassessing my love for The Grey. Liam Neeson was once one of the best actors in the world, but it’s unlikely that any of his movies will be a joy for audiences until they’re once again a joy for the actor.