'A Walk Among the Tombstones': What the Critics Are Saying

Liam Neeson stars as unlicensed private investigator Matt Scudder in Scott Frank's adaptation of the Lawrence Block novel

A Walk Among the Tombstones, out Friday, has writer-director Scott Frank adapting the 10th novel in Lawrence Block’s long-running, best-selling mystery series. Starring Liam Neeson as unlicensed private investigator Matt Scudder, the film follows what happens when he is hired by a heroin dealer to track down the team who held his wife for ransom, but learns that the crime might not have been an isolated incident.

Also featuring Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook, Adam David Thompson, Mark Consuelos and Brian "Astro" Bradley, the dark crime thriller from Universal and Cross Creek Pictures is expected to open in the mid-teens, catering to an older crowd with its R rating.

Read what top critics are saying about A Walk Among the Tombstones:

The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck considers it "the latest example of [Neeson's] unlikely late-career transformation into an action hero," following the Taken films and Non-Stop. Though this film also includes the "tense, Taken-style taunting phone calls with the killers that Neeson could by now perform in his sleep" — plus a "dull middle section, filled with long, talky patches in which nothing much really happens," "convoluted plotting [that] proves too baroque for its own good" and a final act "marred by a too-fussy staging" — that's all compensated by the fact that "Neeson’s emotionally reticent hero is consistently engaging and refreshingly vulnerable, preferring to talk his way out of tense situations and for the most part not even carrying a gun."

Altogether, Frank "clearly has an affinity for the material, investing the proceedings with a darkly compelling atmosphere that recalls the best noirs of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The film benefits greatly from having been shot in various seedy NYC neighborhoods — not to mention the spooky gothic cemetery that inspires the title — with cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. delivering a desaturated color palette accentuating the overall gloominess." Scheck concludes, "If the film does launch a series, there’s plenty of material to draw from," also praising such a possibility over the upcoming Taken 3.

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis calls it "nasty, brutal and unforgiving" with "one of those rare contemporary cinematic offerings: intelligent pulp." Frank's script "gives the characters lots to talk about, both on and studiously off point, [and] he also streamlines the book’s story and jettisons some characters." Altogether, "however attractively shot, with its moody palette and scrupulous framing, A Walk Among the Tombstones can be tough to watch," she warns. "Yet the only throat he shows being cut belongs to a man. Women die, but without becoming cinematic spectacles, a relief given how often their dead bodies are used as ornaments elsewhere. That decision distinguishes this movie from the usual genre fodder and dovetails with what emerges as its almost obsessive interest in the devastations of male misogyny and violence."

On the other hand, Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan writes that it's "the creepiest film I've seen in quite some time, and that's not meant as a compliment," because of its "very modern emphasis on the graphic torture and mutilation of women. … Tombstone's descent into the pornography of violence is especially disturbing because it comes clothed in the garments of a traditional PI film." Still, "Scudder turns out to be a much more modulated character than Taken's Bryan Mills, and Neeson, despair always in his eyes, is quite expert at projecting Scudder's been-there air of moody melancholy."

The Boston Globe's Tom Russo says of the actors, "The problem with this adaptation of Block’s detective yarn isn’t that it casts Neeson in a role we're seeing him play again and again. It’s that no one else in the movie makes a character feel nearly as broken-in and fully inhabited as he does." For example, "to Stevens’s credit, you don’t watch him and think of Downton the entire time, but he makes a pretty tame vengeance seeker. …If there’s anyone who keeps up with Scudder, it’s T.J. (Bradley), a quick-witted homeless kid who starts tagging along with him."

Time's Richard Corliss notes that "Neeson brings Scudder far more gravity than the young [Jeff] Bridges did to [the 1986 adaptation of 8 Million Ways to Die]," complete with "a dose of sadism not seen much in upmarket American movies since the glory gory days of The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en." He also clarifies that final act: "The cluttered climax, in a Mother Bates cellar, explains little of the killers’ psychology; for that you have to read the book."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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