A grizzled private detective meets his match in a pair of sadistic kidnappers in Scott Frank’s gritty thriller.
Adapted from Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name, A Walk Among The Tombstones establishes its grim tone with soft-focus opening credits depicting a blonde woman (Laura Birn) rousing from slumber under the gentle caress of her lover.
As the camera pulls back, we notice a tear trickle down the woman’s porcelain cheek and a strip of metallic tape across her mouth, transforming a beatific dream into a nightmare of intolerable cruelty.
Unspeakably bad things continue to happen to good people throughout Frank’s film without any guarantee that justice will prevail.
Liam Neeson wades through this moral quagmire in typically robust fashion as the private eye, who risks his life for clients in order to atone for one particular sin committed during his inglorious past as an NYPD cop.
The role is more cerebral than the gung-ho avenging angels in the Taken series and Non-Stop, but director Frank duly caters to fans of Neeson’s renaissance as a tough-talking action hero with one bruising fight sequence.
When a shoot-out on the streets of 1991 New York City ends in senseless tragedy, booze-sodden officer Matt Scudder (Neeson) hangs up his badge and embraces sobriety with the support of Alcoholics Anonymous.
He re-surfaces as an unlicensed private detective, working out of his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen.
Fellow AA member Peter Kristo (Boyd Holbrook) approaches Matt with an urgent request to help his brother Kenny (Dan Stevens), who has just paid a $400,000 ransom for his wife (Razane Jammal).
The kidnappers took the money then dismembered their hostage.
Matt visits Kenny in his plush apartment and the former cop deduces the grief-stricken husband is a drug dealer.
Interestingly, the perpetrators knew this from their ransom demand: “You’d pay a million for her if she was product.”
Despite initial misgivings, Matt agrees to help Kenny unmask the merciless perpetrators, Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson), who are already scoping their next target.
In the course of his enquiries, Matt encounters homeless teenager TJ (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley), who needs a father figure to keep him safe on the mean streets of the Big Apple.
A Walk Among The Tombstones is a solid and involving genre piece that lays the groundwork for further adaptations of Block’s series of books dedicated to Scudder.
Matt’s sweetheart Elaine, who is prominent on the page, is missing in action from Frank’s film, allowing us to concentrate on the case and the relationship between Matt and TJ that feels like a convenient plot device rather than a fully realised surrogate father-son bond.
Neeson doesn’t have to stretch himself in the undemanding and hard-hitting lead role, while Downton Abbey heartthrob Stevens makes little impact amidst the explosions of brutality.