Neeson takes New York by storm in A Walk Among The Tombstones

by Mark Burger

As a screenwriter, Scott Frank scored particularly with his faithful and entertaining Elmore Leonard adaptations Get Shorty (1995) and Out of Sight (1997), then successfully transitioned to directing with the distinctly noir-ish 2007 thriller The Lookout.

A seven-year wait between directorial outings has proved worthwhile, as Frank’s screen version of Lawrence Block’s novel A Walk Among the Tombstones is a sharp, stylish adaptation that successfully translates the gritty, suspenseful and often chilling flavor of the source material to the screen.

The territory is, per Frank’s penchant, quintessential film noir, right down to the “vintage” 1990s period setting, as alcoholic ex-cop/private eye Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is tapped by wealthy drug dealer Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens, late of “Downton Abbey”) to find those who kidnapped and then butchered his wife, despite his paying the ransom.

Through good old-fashioned legwork, and the help of homeless teenager and newly-acquired sidekick T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley), Scudder discovers that this isn’t the first such crime. Other drug dealers have lost loved ones in the same fashion, and they are understandably reluctant to get the police involved “” which adds a nice moral ambiguity to the story.

The plot thickens (naturally), as Scudder finds himself on the trail “” and an inevitable collision course – with the diabolical duo (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) responsible for these heinous actions, with Brooklyn an atmospheric backdrop for much of the pursuit.

Bolstered by Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s evocative cinematography and a spine-tingling score by Carlos Rafael Rivera that echoes the work of the late Michael Small (particularly The Parallax View and Marathon Man), Frank displays a firm grasp of the material throughout.

There are a few directorial flourishes that seem excessive, but others work beautifully. The film is certainly violent, but it’s also restrained. A sequence in which the camera lingers on the killers’ implements of torture and murder is just as effective as seeing those implements employed. The suggestion alone stokes the imagination.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is occasionally overstated, and there’s one climax too many. Yet even being ragged around the edges is in keeping with its noirish bent.

Neeson’s natural Irish brogue is sometimes at odds with the New York one he attempts, but the actor brings such gravitas and soul to the proceedings that he could probably could have spoken in Esperanto and made it work.

Neeson can play men of action while adding layers of cynicism, doubt and, yes, heart “” but in a subtle, unshowy and sympathetic manner, A Walk Among the Tombstones isn’t as high concept or box-office-friendly as the Taken films or Non-Stop “” it’s certainly deeper and darker “” but it’s also more resonant.