A trip to the cemetery would have been more fun

Matt Scudder (Neeson) – a dishevelled, dishonoured ex-cop turned private eye in the classic mould of Philip Marlowe – is summoned by a fellow AA attendee to the home of Kenny Kristo (Stevens) following the abduction of Kristo’s wife. 

Kristo, a wealthy drug dealer, paid the ransom only to find his wife hacked to pieces and deposited in the local cemetery. After initially declining on the basis of Kristo’s unsavoury profession and this being a police matter, Scudder finds the case isn’t isolated to this one abduction and accepts. It takes him on a tour of the city’s criminal underbelly and earns him a sidekick in the form of teenage tag-along TJ (Bradley). 

It soon transpires that a pair of murderers have recently upgraded to kidnapping the female relatives of drug dealers and demanding huge ransoms. When eventually the pair seize the young daughter of a Russian dealer (Roché), Scudder’s net tightens.

References bely superficiality
Set in a rain-drenched, turn-of-the-millenium New York, writer/director Scott Frank takes his cue quite shamelessly from gritty 70s fare – and specifically, in the opening sequence, The French Connection. As great as American films of that era are, referencing them here only seems to highlight the comparative superficiality of Frank’s intentions. 

Armed with his filmic references, Frank seems unsure about what to do with them. The direction – the perspective from which we are given to view this world – is disjointed and muddled. 

In one particularly jarring sequence we’re forced to switch our POV from Scudder’s to the kidnappers’ as they letch over the aforementioned teenage daughter of Russian druglord, Yuri Landau. 

This could potentially have produced interesting results, except that Frank has chosen to shoot the sequence like a parody in a sitcom: the salivating kidnappers watching the girl as she walks past their vehicle unawares and in slow motion, with Donovan’s ‘Atlantis’ cranked up to eleven.

No doubt Frank was channelling Goodfellas, but the result is more like the introduction to Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary – and given the context, the sequence feels clumsy and in poor taste.

A cast of corpses
A Walk Among The Tombstones is an apt title for a film littered with supporting performances so leaden you’d expect more from a cast of corpses. 

The only real exception is, surprisingly, X-Factor contestant Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley’s naturalistic turn as TJ, Scudder’s sidekick. I’m at a loss to explain Danny Steven’s portrayal of Kenny Kristo – I can only assume that at some point the wind changed, leaving a permanently stung expression on Stevens’ face so severe that, at times, you’ll want to burst out laughing. 

Neeson, of course, delivers the goods, lending his trademark gravitas – but the familiarity of that only serves to remind us of his earlier films that were more deserving of his talent than this and his recent slew of action-orientated money-spinners.  

One suspects that, on paper at least, this promised to be a more substantial project with potential to reinvigorate Neeson’s stature as an artist while still appealing to fans of Taken and the like. 

On seeing it, it seems unlikely to do either.

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