A Walk Among the Tombstones – Film Review

Liam Neeson takes a dark ride in a thriller that would even scare TV's Dexter

Based on one of the 17 detective novels by Lawrence Block, Liam Neeson is whisky-soaked cop turned private eye Matt Scudder. “Sometimes I do favours for people,” he says ominously. On the trail of a pair of evil kidnappers who chop up their victims for fun, Scudder is employed by a group of drug traffickers. Led by The Guest’s Dan Stevens they can’t go to the police when their family members are taken.

Director Scott Frank wrote Owen Wilson schmaltz Marley & Me but don’t worry there isn’t a cuddly Labrador in sight in a 70s noir-inspired thriller set on the grey streets of a wintry Manhattan. Shot mostly at night it’s the New York of films like Sidney Lumet’s Al Pacino cop drama Serpico – battered and rough round the edges.

The film opens in 1992 with an origin story sequence where Scudder’s gun-toting renegade cop shoots first and asks questions later. But when the action shifts to 1999, the ex-cop is a private eye carrying the demons of drink and tormented by flashbacks to his narcissistic trigger-happy days. A dogged gumshoe with a sharp mind, Scudder could be the type of character you build a HBO TV show around.

The first time he picks up the phone to speak to the kidnappers you might be thinking, ‘Here we go…’ But while the action comes in gruesome bursts Frank (who also wrote Minority Report) crafts a cerebral thriller not a gung-ho revenge flick like Taken. Indeed, Neeson says of Scudder, “He’s not very good at cracking heads… He’s no one man army like Bryan Mills so it was nice to do a switch from films like Taken. Instead of beating on bad guys, they beat me up!”

Scudder’s ‘particular set of skills’ allow him to get one step ahead of the bad guys as the tension ramps to save a young girl from a terrible fate. David Harbour’s villain really is a nasty piece of work with a twisted line in torture. But Scudder’s got a parter to help him. The grizzled verteran hooks up with street kid and wannabe detective TJ (played by former American X Factor contestant Astro). He makes an interesting foil for his grumpy mentor and offers light relief from a series of macabre deaths. Despite a few plot holes (the FBI are more like the neighbourhood watch in this story) the Taken star goes on a dark ride that would even scare TV’s Dexter. See it, or ‘he will find you’.