Jonathan Janssen – Reviewer
When will Liam Neeson grow out of his archetypical invulnerable, paternal role that was born out of Taken, Taken 2, Taken 3, Taken 500, etc.? Never, it seems. Apparently, you can’t teach a 62-year-old, one-man-army new tricks.
Scott Frank’s second film, A Walk Among the Tombstones shows promise from the start, casting Neeson in his classic badass, gunslinger role. From this point on, the movie loses direction so often that one feels the urgent need to give it a roadmap.
To summarize, retired NYPD officer Matthew Scudder (Neeson) undertakes a private investigation when a man from his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings informs him of a job that his brother needs carried out. To complicate things, the man who needs Scudder’s help is also a moderately successful drug trafficker. After no small amount of persuasion, Scudder agrees to help find the drug dealer’s wife’s killers. Following up on every lead available, Scudder keeps getting closer to catching his adversaries while befriending a preteen, homeless, black boy named TJ (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley) in the process. As Scudder begins to discover what he is dealing with, he puts his life on the line to stop the murderers from taking any more lives.
Tombstones appears to have a simplistic storyline, and anyone expecting as much would have been satisfied by its plot summary. However, Tombstones struggles in its misdirection. In essence, this movie bit off much more than it could chew. Instead of picking one central theme and completely fleshing it out, Tombstones dives into so many minor themes – alcoholism, homelessness, fulfillment, etc. – that the audience cannot decipher what director Frank truly wanted to convey to his audience.
For instance, from the very first mention of drugs, one begins to wonder if the killers have some sort of twisted morality involved in their misdeeds. As drugs become progressively prevalent, the viewer’s hypothesis appears to be more than affirmed. Then Tombstones pulls the rug out from under its audience’s feet: after a certain point, drugs are not mentioned anymore throughout the movie. The killers have no ulterior motivation than money. Such a switch into drivel seems implausible, yet it is the direction the movie went.
With some awkward delivery and corny lines – Neeson dives into a hilariously cliché anti-gun Public Service Announcement at one point – Tombstones didn’t know whether to sit on the genre-fence of action/thriller with comedic relief or delve into true darkness and face it unflinchingly. What resulted was a seemingly gloomy film with spurts of action and entertainment tossed in at random, with the entire role of TJ seeming to be an appeasement to audience members desiring cuteness/comedy at the expense of a racial stereotype.
While much of Tombstones deserves criticism, cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. merits praise for his beautifully constructed shots. Every scene conveyed a certain darkness that wanted to loom over the film, and did so with elegance and grace.
While it would have been great as either a thought-provoking action film or an all-consuming dive into the darkness of true evil, A Walk Among the Tombstones’ lack of direction and focus led to a film that needed to figure itself out before its audience could even begin to.