Print Edition: October 1, 2014
Contrary to popular belief, Liam Neeson can do films that don’t involve him karate-chopping people who have taken his daughter. He has proven in several films, most recently The Grey, that his range is wider than just being an invincible force of vengeance.
At first glance, A Walk Among the Tombstones seems like a generic mystery thriller. But within a few minutes after the opening credits, the film deters from the standard Taken procedure by killing off the captured woman.
The film is an investigative thriller as Matt Scudder (Neeson) converses with prosperous drug dealers who all have one thing in common: a loved one has been taken by a team of sadistic serial killers. Based on the book written by Lawrence Block, Neeson plays a private investigator trying to match the clues about who the killers are, and why they are targeting these women.
A third of the way through the film, A Walk Among the Tombstones makes an extremely risky decision: you learn who the killers are. But despite the knowledge of their identity, the film still retains a firm investigative edge. This is because the killers are by far the most intriguing part of this film. The two psychopaths are inspired by the real-life murderers known as the Hillside Stranglers. They are decisive and brutally methodical with their prey. Their means of toying with the victims are hauntingly disturbing, yet deeply enthralling.
Director Scott Frank does a commendable job at implying bloody violence without actually showing it. Somewhat similar to Silence of the Lambs, Frank leaves the gory imagery up for the audience to understand. Doing this creates a deeper interactivity with the audience, who can interpret the actions and motivations of the killers.
Liam Neeson’s character is essentially a modern-day Dick Tracy. While he burdens himself with past guilt, his character’s demeanour and attire (minus the hat and abundance of yellow) are all inspired by the character. Those legendary penny-book crime-fighters are what TJ — an orphan boy who Neeson befriends — envisions Scudder as. TJ’s role is a modern adaptation of Tracy’s sidekick Kid from the Warren Beatty film. And while his purpose in the film may be hammy if not predictable, his character serves an important purpose. And while the drug dealer criminals are unusually nice, their part helps develop the murky moral barrier that Neeson treks throughout the film right up until the final climax.
A Walk Among the Tombstones is more than your standard, predictable mystery film. It offers a solid, exciting narrative and two terrifying and completely enthralling villains, whose origins and motives will haunt the filmgoer long after the film has ended.