On the same weekend that you think you’re getting “just another Hunger Games ripoff” in The Maze Runner (you’re not), you also get what you probably think is “just another Liam Neeson/Taken flick” in A Walk Among the Tombstones (again, you’re not).
Yes, Neeson is the gruff good guy who’s hunting down bad-guy kidnappers, but that’s where the similarities to Taken (or Taken 2) end. Where those films were slap-dash, frantic, action-driven flicks, A Walk Among the Tombstones draws easy comparisons to the suspenseful, atmospheric slow burns like Drive, The Silence of the Lambs, and Killing Them Softly.
Neeson is Matt Scudder, the hero of author Lawrence Block’s decades-old series of novels. A retired, ex-alcoholic cop, Scudder is working the private detective beat when he gets a new case. The wife of a drug trafficker (Dan Stevens, scuttling the last vestiges of his Downton Abbey days) has been kidnapped and killed—the latest in a string of similar, grisly crimes.
Scudder gets to work, helped by a local homeless kid (rapper “Astro”) who he takes on as an associate. Instead of breaking doors down, yelling, and chasing suspects through the streets, though, Scudder gives us the rare treat of a detective who behaves like an actual detective. He pokes around the crime scenes, tracks down witnesses, and searches for clues. It’s almost refreshing.
Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. does a brilliant job setting the mood, painting everything with the dreary gray brush of a rainy New York City fall. But his nuance is impeccable, too, including an inventive reverse tracking shot using a van’s side-view mirror. It’s a little thing, but it’s symptomatic of the excellent whole.
In the capable hands of Neeson, who here turns in his most subtle and complex performance in years, and director and screenwriter Scott Frank, Tombstones comes together as a one of the more taut, suspenseful thrillers of 2014.