Although it’s a bit overly nasty at times, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a fine detective thriller.
Whatever you picture when I say the words “Liam Neeson detective thriller” in that order is what A Walk Among the Tombstones delivers. Sometimes when it comes to Liam Neeson vehicles, you get something different than what you imagined – The Grey, for example, was sold as “Liam Neeson fights wolves” and instead turned out to be a mediation on faith, humanity, death and masculinity, whilst Non-Stop revealed itself to be a deconstruction of the kind of film that you picture “Liam Neeson is an Air Marshall” to be – but here you get what you pay for. Liam Neeson skulks around New York in a long coat, waving a fake police badge at people, gravelly asking questions and trying to figure out who the bad guys are in a town where everyone has a connection to someone and most have got something to hide. Also, women fill the victim roles exclusively and a key factor of the identity of the killers is more than a little uncomfortable in its implications.
It’s a pulpy detective thriller that’s got shades of noir to proceedings, based on a book that I imagine, had it been released during such a time, would have been sold for about a buck fifty at a railway station somewhere. I understand that marginalisation of women and bouts of nastiness come with the territory in a tale of manly men getting into horrible situations. Plus, I get that they need to show the kind of stuff that they do in order to properly communicate to the viewer just how psychotic the killers are, but I still felt very uneasy during those moments and found them more than a little exploitative. It doesn’t cross that line too often, often staying on just the right side of proceedings, but it goes full tilt when it does and, again, I felt way too uncomfortable during those moments. You could spin this and say that the filmmakers have sufficiently done their intended job, but I’d still rather be spared it.
Outside of that, the film is pretty damn good. I appreciate the fact that it basically gives up bothering to hide the killers in shadow after about 40 or so minutes, realising that the real tension and mystery comes from finding them before they strike again. Liam Neeson is in reliably good form as the kind of unlicensed private detective that fits this kind of genre, and he has good chemistry with Brian “Astro” Bradley (from the underrated and under-seen Earth to Echo), here playing a street kid that Neeson ends up befriending and who, thankfully, ends up as more than just a slightly-less cartoonish version of Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch like I feared he would. The pacing is slow but methodical, doing a good job of building the tension and giving out little pieces of plot and character development without feeling stingy. Meanwhile, most of the film is shot with wide angles and a lack of close-ups which lends proceedings a very filmic and old-school feel, slightly cold and distant but not overly so, and it fits very well, even if the overall cinematography is still rather bland and forgettable beyond the wide shots.
I’m struggling to find other things to say, to be honest. Again, there’s not much to A Walk Among the Tombstones that you couldn’t already guess from the premise. It is what it is and I will cop to having enjoyed it, moments of nastiness aside. It’s a Liam Neeson vehicle and a pretty good one at that. There’s little else going on under the surface of that premise, not much spectacular residing in the film that sports the premise, and nothing that will cause it to cross my mind more than a week or so after having filed this review. OK, Neeson, Bradley and David Harbour all add another great performance to their personal running totals, but that’s about it. I got what I paid for and was pleasantly satisfied and fully engaged with what I got. If you just want a decent detective thriller to pass two hours, then A Walk Among the Tombstones will suit you nicely. It is what it is and what it is is pretty damn good.
Callie Petch will be running, running, running, running right back to you.