Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour
Directed by: Scott Frank (“The Lookout”)
Written by: Scott Frank (“Minority Report”)
Anyone else getting déjà vu? If you’ve seen the previews, trailers, or commercials for “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” it certainly appears as if Liam Neeson has returned to the well that has given him a rebirth as an action star. Even though his films might all appear similar, “Tombstones” isn’t quite “Taken 3” (or because of repetitive marketing, “Liam Neeson Aggressively Threatens Someone Over the Phone 3”) though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel familiar.
After quitting the NYPD years prior, Matt Scudder (Neeson) works as an unlicensed private investigator in New York. Although reluctant, Matt agrees to take a case from drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) whose wife was kidnapped and murdered after he paid a ransom. As Matt begins to dig deeper to find her killers, he sees the operation might be more complex than it seems.
As a hard-nosed former NYPD officer, Neeson sports a pretty bad New York accent that seems to fade in and out throughout the movie. Distracting dialect aside, Neeson doesn’t stray too far from the type of character audiences have seen him in since “Taken.” It’s a typecast that he’s certainly good at, but at this point the roles are beginning to blend together. Though it is of no fault to the cast, “Tombstones” suffers from completely unmemorable characters. Brian “Astro” Bradley gives a fine performance as TJ, a homeless kid who befriends Matt, but the character feels oddly out of place in the grand scheme of the film.
With an uneventful first two acts, “Tombstones” completely stumbles out of the gate. The first hour is dull and generic. Neeson’s character is searching for clues to put together pieces of a mystery, yet nothing of consequence or interest happen.s There are also a few puzzling decisions from screenwriter and director Scott Frank. For whatever reason, Frank felt the need to obscure the faces of the perpetrators and antagonists for the first portion of the film. It is an unnecessary mystery and decision with zero payoff other than literally seeing what the actors look like.
There is also the decision to take scenes during the climax of the film and relate it to a theme involving the 12-step program. It is a connection that is ill fitting and flimsy at best and actually annoyingly interrupts some of the most tense moments of the film. Where “Tombstones” is able to salvage itself is in its final act where the heat finally turns up and the story begins to take interesting turns. When Matt takes over another kidnapping situation, the film gains momentum as he inches closer and closer to a showdown with the bad guys. It is here that Neeson proves his worth and becomes fun to watch.
“Tombstones” is both visually and thematically a pretty dark affair. Unfortunately, it works in both directions and, at times, enhances certain scenes while leaving viewers cold and distant in others. It’s a shame Frank couldn’t have gotten to the point through a quicker and a more interesting route. “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is a slow burn that takes far too long to ignite.