Welcome to the first original review on the brand new site. I checked all my logs and I have yet to do a review of a September release. This raises some questions about the worthiness of anything released in this month and if its worth seeing at all. True we are coming right off of the summer. People are done with vacations, school is back in session, and honestly of all the months in the year September is the least interesting. Sorry Virgo’s, you know its true. It is neither fall, nor still quite summer. September just is. So what does it say then that we have two releases this week that at least piqued my interest?
Let us begin the exploration of that question with A Walk Among the Tombstones.
Based on a book (what isn’t these days?) by Lawrence Block who based on his writing work for the silver and small screen has a love for the detective genre. This particular novel of his was adapted for the screen by Scott Frank. Frank has an interesting blend of screen play work prior to this with mob movies (Get Shorty), crime thrillers (Out of Sight), sci fi (Minority Report), capers (The Lookout), family films (Marley and Me) and even comic books (The Wolverine – the good one). I have absolutely no idea what to make of this man as he is all over the map. If anything based on the works I have seen he does like writing stories that have actual character moments or an attempt at them anyway and seems to enjoy unusual social interactions.
This also marks Franks first theatrical directors credit, with only The Lookout in 2007 as his other feature film credit. I feel the need to say it now that Scott Frank may be best behind the page, not the camera.
Let me explain, still within my spoiler free realm (difficult for a mystery). The story first and foremost is a mystery with Liam Neeson as a retired cop playing PI. He is hired by the brother of someone in his AA circle to find the mans wife who was taken, ransom paid, and killed anyway. This is a full on classic private eye movie with the investigator in question working his way to the source of the crime and facing off with them.
I think I wish this film had been done in black and white. It may have added color, as counterintuitive as it is. The movie has a solid R rating, but doesn’t show us anything and the hints of what it does show don’t carry any real weight. I wasn’t horrified. I wasn’t discomforted. They wanted to talk about something wrong and something broken but I don’t feel that they went far enough. Thats where black and white could have added atmosphere to the movie to give it more weight than the off and on rain did. They might have even been able to go further and hint at more horrific acts perpetrated by our bad guys. I am not asking for gore but better teases. Better innuendo that leaves my mind pondering just how bad it really was.
Granted, I could be desensitized after 30 years of watching movies that I can remember. But the lack of risk in the film combined with way too many shots of Liam Neeson just walking created more yawns than it did tension. It threw the pacing off as things happened and didn’t throughout the film with no perceived threat to the protagonist or even auxiliary characters. Another problem the film faced in the pacing department was the stories of those auxiliary characters eating up more screen time than I cared about. I suppose they could have been there to humanize Neeson’s character, but I’d have needed to care about any of them for that to work.
This isn’t to say their acting was bad. Neeson was surprisingly restrained in this film and despite what was billed (more on that in a sec) was not playing Brian Mills. No one else other than Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley (Earth to Echo) did anything of note worth mentioning acting wise. Astro was plucky, but just nearly annoyingly so. The other actors for their parts did well enough, but I don’t think the direction was there for them to elevate the performance into anything memorable. Even our killers felt flat.
Now, I want to talk about the trailer a second. You cannot show Liam Neeson on a portable/cellular phone threatening someone or being even remotely menacing without intentionally making people think the movie is another Taken riff. This was false advertising to get your butts into the seats. To see Neeson play Mills yet again. This is not the movie we are getting. This is a slow paced murder mystery. Congratulations studio you may have duped your audience successfully, but I do not think they will forget it. This means your other trailers begin to have less weight the more trickery you try.
This film has three total action beats. Thats it. So…
A Walk Among the Tombstones really should have been called a Meander through the Tombstones Eventually. This is a slow burn mystery that lacks the impact or even originality of other films before it. I remember watching 8mm (I may do a review of that in October) and being somewhat intrigued/disturbed by a private investigators descent into a world far darker than he was prepared for.
This film doesn’t do that. It just doesn’t seem to want to care even though I think its trying to.
I can’t bring myself to care either.
If you were at all curious, you can probably wait til Redbox.
If you are a Neeson completist – do yourself a favor and see it in Matinee.
As always, please feel free to chime in below with your own thoughts should you see the film.