A Walk Among The Tombstones

A walk among the tombstones

The best compliment you can give A Walk among the Tombstones is to say it isn’t anything like Taken. So ubiquitous is the image of Liam Neeson calmly threatening evil men on the phone with dire consequences that a similar scene in Tombstones immediately evokes memories of that action film. But the comparisons end there.

While Neeson as an actor has become more bankable since metamorphosing into a sort of Irish Steven Seagal, he has also quietly continued to make films of less dubious quality such as The Grey. Here he pursues the latter track. Tombstones isn’t entirely new in terms of concept or premise. As a noir, detective, serial killer hybrid about women who are kidnapped for ransom, it traverses the usual thriller elements you would expect to find in any of those genres. It is elevated to more than watchable levels thanks in no small part to Neeson’s imposing performance and also director Scott Frank’s uncommon approach to the story. A lot of the director’s visual form borrows from David Fincher slick yet ominous approach, where the killers are deliberately kept off-screen by strategic and judicious use of clever lighting and polished, fluid camerawork. A single memorable segment can make even an average film feel more than just serviceable and a scene where one of the potential victims, in a stark red dress, is introduced in slow motion walking her dog does just that.

Set in 1999 at the height of the looming Y2K crisis, Tombstones presents Neeson’s character of Matt Scudder as a now retired policeman with Luddite tendencies, helping shape his character into a fascinating old-fashioned detective. The prevalent use of phone booths, libraries and dark, rainy alleys contribute in raising the level of inherent anachronism but the setup takes a hit when it tries to pair Neeson with a young black kid who wants to help him. This becomes a tool for learning Scudder’s backstory but Tombstones would probably have been leaner and more efficient had it excised this arc entirely. Some may find the lack of a proper, well-developed female character another weakness (perfect films of similar ilk such as Se7en or Silence of the Lambs never made these mistakes) and then there is the last act, where guns comes out and body counts rise, but until this point Neeson is a joy to watch onscreen and the film strikingly engaging. Till Taken 3 comes out next year and erodes Neeson’s credibility some more, this is the kind of film to serve as a reminder of how good he can be in the right kind of role.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and wearethemovies.com