Liam Neeson, hunting down dastardly criminals, is something of a pull at the box-office. From Taken to Non-Stop, Neeson seems to perfectly portray the hero who can save the day. A Walk among the Tombstones seems to seek the pace, and urgency of Taken, but tries to balance it out with a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-like investigation. A Walk among the Tombstones is a modern example of a star-led drama that, without the star, falls into B-Movie throwaway film fare.
Apart from a 1991-set brief opening, the bulk of the film is set during 1999. Multiple nods to the Y2K virus hint at an end-of-days fear, but this is neither effective nor intertwined with the plot (except the “People are afraid of the wrong things” tag line). The main thrust of the story is the hunting of two serial killers, who expertly target the wives and children of drug-dealers. Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson), member of alcoholics-anonymous and ex-Police Officer, is sought out to find the culprits of the heinous crimes. Reluctant at first, Scudder is drawn to solving the crimes to atone for his own sins. Due to his lack of computer-skills at the library, he befriends a homeless boy, TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) who is street smart and thinks fast, and together they piece together the murders – and work out who might be next…
It is simple thriller-by-numbers. The serial-killers, who ride around slowly in a van, are villains in every way. No nuanced characteristics or well-constructed motives, they’re just evil. Not only do they attack and torture women, but they have a strange fetish whereby they cut off breasts using wire. Scudder, alternatively, is the good guy. The tortured soul who seeks forgiveness (not for the shooting of three burglars without trial it seems, but something “worse”) and spends his days attending AA meetings and eating in greasy-spoons. The opening nods to Dirty Harry, and the pervert-accomplice Jonas (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), even looks like a tubbier version of the crazed-hippy in Don Siegel’s classic. Eastwood’s iconic role was known for his shoot-first, ask-questions-later form of police work. A Walk among the Tombstones teased the controversial idea that this brutality holds emotional and psychological consequences. Instead, it seems that Matt Scudder is Harry Callahan without the panache.
Unfortunately, reconfiguring and reflecting on the film only highlights further flaws. First and foremost, women are merely victims in the film (failing the known Bechdel test I assume). The opening credits depict glowing white skin of a sexy blonde woman, only to reveal that she is bound by gaffer tape and is in fact a victim to the serial killers. Jonas, the accomplice who, though helpful and a chatty, is also a peeping tom. He is depicted sympathetically and is almost played as a victim of the serial killers himself. Considering his direct connection and assistance in her kidnap, he gets off lightly in how he is treated. TJ, the wonder-kid who should surely be more vital, gets short shrift and could be removed completely from the film with little change to the story itself.
A Walk among the Tombstones, borders on offensive. Its approach to crime and justice is fatally flawed and Matt Scudder, a complicated character, is reduced to simple clichés. It’s worth noting that Matt Scudder features in 18 novels, whereby he attends his first alcoholic anonymous meeting in the fifth entry to the series. Whether his tales could be told better as a television series, or if director Scott Frank simply crammed too much into one film, this current incarnation is a misfire. Surely Scudder deserved better.