Liam Neeson takes a stroll on the Big Apple’s dark & seedy side
A Walk Among The Tombstones
Starring Liam Neeson & Dan Stevens
Directed by Scott Frank
R, 113 min.
“Behind you! Behind you!!!” the lady seated beside me urgently whispered to the screen, to Liam Neeson’s character, as unseen danger crept toward him from the shadows.
At this stage of his career, Neeson is fairly accustomed to threats in the shadows—and often it’s him. At 62, he has emerged as one of Hollywood’s leading “older” action stars, playing weathered, well-worn men well-versed in covert ops, and more extreme activities when needed, in the successful three-movie Taken franchise and the recent high-in-the-sky airplane drama Non-Stop.
In the new thriller-chiller A Walk Among the Tombstones, based on a novel by popular crime-mystery writer Lawrence Block, he’s Matt Scudder, a rumpled, crumpled New York City ex-cop loner on the trail of two pervs plucking women off the streets and subjecting them to unspeakable horrors. The title helps set the creepy stage right off the bat, and the opening credits—which play over a “dreamy” scene that you slowly realize is actually a nightmare—hit you like a punch to the gut. The grim atmosphere is orchestrated by cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who shoots the grungy New York locations in muted, washed-out tones and smoky pastels that match Scudder’s bleak, bleached emotions, drained of color and joy after all that he’s seen…and done.
The story is set in 1999, which also plays into the look of the movie—it was a time before much of the Big Apple’s modern urban-renewal polishing, and it burrows into the city’s shabbier side streets and seedier locations to give real-life dimensions to its down-and-out drama. Scudder’s a recovering alcoholic, which also contributes to the theme of brokenness—and also the hopeful idea of working toward reparation.
Brian “Astro” Bradley plays a homeless teen—and aspiring detective—who becomes Scudder’s tag-along sidekick. Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey) is a prosperous heroin traffiker whose wife’s kidnapping draws Scudder down an ever-darkening trail that ultimately leads him to the tombstones of the title.
This is a movie about violent, twisted people, although much of the violence is left to the imagination rather than depicted. Most of the story is about the process, the escalating cat-and-mouse game, the “procedural” that will be familiar to anyone who watches TV shows like CSI, Law and Order or Criminal Minds. But that doesn’t make it any less unsettling, especially when one of the victims is a 13-year-old girl, or when the camera lingers on a kidnapper fondling the bloodied tools of his torture trade, or asking one of his terrified, bound captives a question that should make the skin crawl on any woman, of any age.
“People are afraid of all the wrong things,” says the movie’s tagline. The wrong things, it suggests, are “scary” but benign places, like cemeteries, or the fear of death. The true terrors, and the real monsters, it so chillingly reminds us, can be ordinary-looking people in a cargo van cruising up and down the street, in a house next door—or sneaking up from the shadows right now, behind you, behind you!
—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine