Liam Neeson stars in A Walk Among The Tombstones

Liam Neeson stars in A Walk Among The Tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones is, and feels like it is, adapted from the 10th book in Lawrence Block’s ex-NYPD-cop turned unlicensed-Private Eye- series. The accomplished Hollywood scriptwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report) directs his adaptation of Lawrence Block’s crime novel as a study in shades of noir.  Liam Neeson plays the unlicensed gumshoe and recovering alcoholic Matthew Scudder with such a convincing mix of pain, authority and experience that you overlook all the clichés and marvel at the 62-year-old actor’s charismatic physical presence.

In case you are wondering, Neeson really does walk among the Tombstones. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn appears twice in the film. The first time, Scudder walks through it he meets the creepy caretaker, James Logan, arguably the most interesting and unusual character in the film.

In Scudder’s murky, nightmarish world, nothing is normal.  The good-guys, or, at least, Scudder’s clients, are wealthy drug traffickers.  The first to contact Scudder is Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey), a mild-mannered, blue-eyed Adonis with impeccable home furnishings.  He wants Scudder to find the men who kidnapped and murdered his wife – after he paid the ransom – so that he can enact revenge.

Scudder might be a disgraced cop, but we have to admire him. He cannot be bought by drug dealers.  He explains to Kenny: ‘I do favours for people and in return they give me gifts.’ He does eventually take the job – but not for the money, of course.

The bad-guys (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson), and, trust me, they are a special sadistic breed of psychopathic perverts, should be the good-guys as they want to clear the streets of drug dealers.  To tell anymore would ruin an element of surprise. Suffice it to say, they not only kidnap the drug-dealer wives, but torture and then kill them regardless of the ransom.

Nor are things normal when it comes to the question of Scudder’s inevitable assistant.  Instead of a sexy girl, or a ‘buddy’ his age, Scudder gets TJ (played by Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley from Echo to Echo).  Scudder meets this precocious black, homeless boy in the public library. Conveniently, TJ needs a father figure and an internship just as Scudder needs a family and an assistant.   Granted, the ghoulish scenario is lightened by the chalk-and-cheese nature of this interaction, but, despite Scudder’s dormant paternal instincts, it comes across as a vaguely sentimental contrivance.

The real reason to see the film is Neeson.  You can throw all the clichés in the book at his character and he will chew them up and spit them out like something new and wonderful that you could watch forever.

Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer