Outside of a few moments of kind of shocking violence — most of which is done to women, which is going to have a lot of people up in arms — there’s really nothing worth talking about when it comes to A Walk Among the Tombstones. Perhaps that’s why it’s easy to narrow in on the violence. Does that mean it’s done its job? Since we’re talking about the “shocking” part, it worked, right? I don’t know. Having a mundane private investigator movie to house the shock emphasizes the shock, sure, but it feels more like we’re talking about it because that’s all we’ve got, not because it’s so incredibly controversial.
Based on the Lawrence Block novel, and brought to the screen by Scott Frank (he both wrote and directed), A Walk Among the Tombstones stars Liam Neeson as retired cop Matt Scudder, someone whose name I only remembered because I looked it up online afterward. He used to be a police officer who drank, but after an “incident,” he retired and now he does “favors” for people. In exchange for “gifts.” You see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.
Matt’s hired by Kenny (Dan Stevens) to track down two men who took his wife. They killed her and chopped up her body. It turns out that there are other stories like this one. And once a young girl is taken by the same people, urgency rises. Actually, that’s basically the only time there’s any sort of escalation in this film. In fact, right before the girl is taken, Matt quit the case. He gave up. But then this 14-year-old gets taken and all of a sudden it’s “let’s be the hero again.”
I jest. Kind of. It seemed a little weird for him to completely quit only for a couple of scenes to pass before he forget that he quit and was back on the case. This happens right near the end, by the way, in the last half hour. The rest of the movie involves him trying to track down these two individuals, which mostly involves walking kind of slowly, talking to random bystanders, and little more. A Walk Among the Tombstones is a boring movie for the most part.
The only times it gets interesting are (1) near the end, after the girl gets taken, because the pace quickens and lives are in danger and (2) whenever things get violent. It’s rare that guns or fists do get involved, but whenever they do, it certainly wakes you up. The guns are really loud — like, probably as loud as they’d be in real life, unlike in most movies — and the violence is very realistic, which makes it unsettling and an uncomfortable watch. You’re glued to the screen when these scenes happen, because it’s one of the few times that something not completely uninspired is going on.
Let’s just deal with this here and now. Yes, the only reason women are in this movie is to be taken or killed. Yes, sometimes you get to see bad things happen to them. No, it’s not okay. Yes, it’s okay if you take issue with it. And, yes, having a very mediocre movie surrounding this is going to make it stand out even more. Controversy thanks to mediocrity? I suppose that’s one way to go about things.
I’m going to guess that the chances are pretty low that you know of and/or recognize any of the names in this film apart from Liam Neeson. I mean, sure, Dan Stevens has been in some movies and was on Downton Abbey for a while, but I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a crowd. It all falls on Neeson’s shoulders — especially since the film around him does so very little to capture our attention — and while I like Neeson and would watching him in almost anything, he looks uninterested for much of this one. His deadpan humor works a couple of times, but he just doesn’t look engaged with the material. I mean, he gets so unenthusiastic that he gets paired with a kid sidekick (Brian “Astro” Bradley) for a good chunk of the film. No, seriously.
Less Taken and more “boring episode of cop drama #748 on cable,” A Walk Among the Tombstones is only interesting when it’s being controversial, or when the story finally picks up in its final quarter of running time (which is too late). Its mundanity and complete lack of originality means that its violent scenes — often involving women — stand out and become talking points. It has a bored lead, an uninspired plot, and very little worth seeing.