Is it worth taking a Walk Among the Tombstones?
Providing a middling introduction to the world of novelist Lawrence Block's private investigator, Matt Scudder, this first adaptation benefits from Neeson's presence but struggles to distinguish itself within the genre.Providing an eminently darker and more gritty world within which recently reinvented action-man icon Liam Neeson can peddle his wares, A Walk Among the Tombstones enters familiar psycho-killer territory, as our ex-alcoholic-cop-turned-unlicensed-private-detective hero is reluctantly enlisted by a shady drug trafficker to find the men that abducted and killed his wife - even after he paid the ransom.
As he investigates the matter he find himself on the trail of a pair of serial kidnap-killers who target individuals that are more vulnerable because, due to the illegal nature of their profession, they are less likely to approach the authorities. And it falls upon Scudder to bring them to justice, one way or another.Although confidently and competently put together, writer/director Scott Frank's sophomore directorial outing only displays flashes of stylistic distinction, delivering a few memorable moments and tense set-pieces, but largely failing to blend it all into a cohesive, compelling whole.
There's lots of promise in Frank's work, and the solid foundation for a potentially far better franchise, should they invest in this character and develop him in sequels, but, as it is, it frequently draws comparisons to another crime-novel-turned-potential-movie-franchise of late: Cruise's Jack Reacher, and the comparisons are not always that favourable.
Neeson remains a strong backbone to the cast, drawing your attention even when the script falters and stumbles, and the story starts to plod a little. He's got undeniable presence, and the role seems perfectly suited to this stage in his career and would undoubtedly hold him in good stead past the end of the Taken franchise, should he consider sequels. Perhaps one issue, though, is that they don't really make the most of him. Neither script nor story, nor even Scott's direction, brings out the best in Neeson. He can do his Taken schtick with his eyes shut, but what we need is a little bit more of The Grey and a little less Bryan Mills. Non-Stop brought alcoholism into the fray, and Tombstones takes it one step further, but neither makes the most of Neeson's genuine acting talents, instead falling back upon his reliable action talents.
Neeson can do his Taken routine with his eyes closed but it would be nice to see a little more of The Grey from him.
Dan Stevens, fresh from his almost unrecognisable Drive-like turn in this year's most underrated gem, The Guest, provides suitably shady support as the dodgy client whose wife was kidnapped and killed. It's difficult to tell whether it's The Guest, or just Stevens' performance, but you never quite trust his character here. Neeson gets lumbered with a side-kick - a story concept which I desperately wanted to hate, but which actually wasn't anywhere near as bad as it could have been - and it's refreshing that they stay well clear of throwing some contrived romance into the proceedings; indeed the majority of the cast do well in decent enough character roles, with perhaps only the villains suffering from underdevelopment. That said, Seven set the bar pretty high, and most filmmakers find it hard to recapture that kind of magic.
With far too much predictability, not enough tension and a really repetitive score which further draws unfavourable comparisons to Reacher, it's hard not to regard this as a less impressive, less original sibling to the Jack Reacher adaptation. However, it still does its job well enough - Neeson, kidnap victims, nasty killers, shady dealers, and thunderous gunshots echoing in the night; if that's what you came here expecting then you won't be too disappointed. And, at the end of the day, running off a relatively tiny budget which they've already more than made back at the Box Office, there's no reason why this can't be turned into a very enjoyable franchise, perhaps reversing the pattern of the Taken series and instead getting better with each successive entry.
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