Based on Lawrence Block's bestselling series of mystery novels, A Walk among the Tombstones stars Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder, an ex-NYPD cop who now works as an unlicensed private investigator operating just outside the law. When Scudder reluctantly agrees to help a heroin trafficker (Dan Stevens) hunt down the men who kidnapped and then brutally murdered his wife, the PI learns that this is not the first time these men have committed this sort of twisted crime...nor will it be the last. Blurring the lines between right and wrong, Scudder races to track the deviants through the backstreets of New York City before they kill again.
As Liam Neeson currently squeezes every last ounce of 'Taken' goodwill out of the movie-going public, it's nice to know that he can thrive in other less action-centric thrillers. Even though they aren't nearly the same genre, Neeson's performance in 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' reminded me of his work in 'Five Minutes of Heaven.' Instead of kicking and punching bad guys into oblivion, his character is more contemplative. More thoughtful.
Matt Scudder (Neeson) is a former cop, turned private detective, trying to outrun his alcoholic past. While the clichés of an ex-cop with a drinking problem are front and center, Neeson's performance sidesteps most of the more obvious characterizations. Like Jack Reacher, Matt Scudder is a detective with a checkered past. A mysterious man with skills he doesn't necessarily want to use, unless prodded. Deep down inside Scudder's tough exterior is an empathetic human being.
Scott Frank's adaption of Lawrence Block's novel is a dark, disturbing look into a familiar serial killer tale. The twist is that Scudder is helping criminals. Wives of known drug dealers are being kidnapped for ransom, and then killed without mercy. Scudder investigates the incidents, and comes to a conclusion much in the same way Jack Reacher does. There are quite a lot of parallels to draw between the two lone wolf detectives.
What keeps 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' from sinking too far into the well-tread pathway of serial killer movies, is its haunting atmosphere. Mihai Malaimare Jr.'s shadow-drenched cinematography, and Carlos Rivera's pitch-perfect score give the film a decidedly noir feeling. The way the two killers are depicted is unnerving, though bordering on the absurd. They're just evil enough, but not so over the top that we can't take them seriously.
Also, there's the way Scudder goes about his business. He's not all about breaking faces and shooting guns. He does real detective work. He wanders the city, interviews witnesses, pieces together the puzzle, and even picks up a sidekick along the way.
The complaint about 'A Walk Among the Tombstones,' however, is that it does from time to time slide far too easily into the tropes we would expect a detective movie to deliver. Most of the time the moody atmosphere and Neeson's thoughtful performance are enough to distract us, but there's only so much that the movie can do to hide the fact that sometimes there's just no way around the usual formula.
Once Scudder starts really piecing together what's happening the movie sort of goes into autopilot. The gritty investigative prowess of Scudder is shuttered for a more by-the-numbers approach to ending an investigation. The problem there is that the ending isn't so much of a climax as it is an unfortunate necessity. There's nowhere else for the story to go, so the most obvious end, by default, is the one we get.
There's still a lot to like about 'A Walk Among the Tombstones.' The way its shot, the foreboding nature of its shadowy photography, and Neeson's performance are all enjoyable aspects of the movie. It's not too often we get a slower paced detective story like this. One that focuses on the investigation instead of the inevitable action scenes produced from the investigation. However, it can only pretend for so long. It's still a detective story about a guy chasing some sadistic serial killers. The film goes about it in some interesting ways, but in the end we arrive in a far too familiar place.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This release comes with a 50GB Blu-ray and a DVD copy of the film. UltraViolet and iTunes Digital Copies are also provided. The discs are packaged in a standard keepcase. The case comes with a cardboard slipcover.
With all its bleak darkness and encompassing shadows, 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' provides a diverse and strong 1080p visual presentation. Black levels are excellent. Even though inky shadows dominate the visuals, there is clear delineation from shadow and fine detail. There's never a moment where the shadows become too overbearing. They only add to the movie's creepy ambiance, and never detract from the viewer's pleasure.
Nicely lit scenes sport a striking amount of detail. Facial detail is top-notch. Pores and facial hair are readily visible. As for distracting anomalies like blocking, noise, or aliasing, there's nothing to report. Even in the darkest areas of the movie's color palette, noise is completely invisible.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is equally sturdy. It isn't a non-stop action movie, but when the action ratchets up the audio mix goes all out. Thudding gunshots boom out of the sub-woofer. Honestly, some of the gunshots in this movie sound like small bombs. They may be a little over the top when it comes to how deafening they are, but if you're into loud bass whenever you can get it, then boy you'll enjoy the beginning and end of this movie for sure.
Dialogue is always clear. Even when Neeson is mumbling through his lines with his tough-guy gruff voice. The movie's eerie soundtrack is given ample room to breathe as it wafts through the front speakers, bleeding into the rear channels at times. The rear channels are full of the ambient sounds of the city.
The bleak, moody atmosphere of 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' is what separates it from the pack of been-there-done-that detective movies. However, there comes a point where the movie simply can't hide from detective movie clichés any longer. Neeson's performance is fun to watch. The cinematography is a joy, but it's difficult to get past the familiar tropes that continuously pop up. Though, it's worth a look especially with its strong audio and video presentations.