Liam Neeson Puts His Particular Set Of Skills Back To Work In A Walk Among The Tombstones.

A Walk Among the Tombstones.
Director: Scott Frank.
Writer: Scott Frank.
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Astro, David Harbour, Adam David Thompson, Eric Nelson.
Playing At: Everywhere.

After decades of doing respectable work by playing noble, real-life title characters in Schindler's List, Michael Collins and Kinsey, Liam Neeson truly found his calling in the mid-aughts — first as Ra's Al Ghul, the villain in 2005's Batman Begins, and then as the ass-kicking dad on the hunt of his daughter's kidnappers in 2008's Taken, the film that best established Neeson for a second act and a world of previously unavailable roles.

As tends to happen over time, though, even Neeson's grizzled types have started to feel awfully familiar through two ho-hum sequels (Taken 2 and Wrath of the Titans) and the totally forgettable Non-Stop.

But in a new role as private detective Matt Scudder in A Walk Among the Tombstones, Neeson has once again found himself a character worth playing. The brainchild of novelist Lawrence Block, Scudder has appeared in more than a dozen novels and 1986's 8 Million Ways to Die starring Jeff Bridges in the role. It's Neeson, however, who has the chops to pull him off thanks to both his acting ability and his now-seasoned tough-guy persona.

Set in 1999, A Walk Among the Tombstones is something of a throwback: There are old-school thrills aplenty, with ransom demands being made on payphones and research being done at the microfilm machine at the public library. The plot, in short? Neeson's Scudder is hired by drug dealer Kenny Kristo (The Guest's Dan Stevens) to investigate the murder of his wife.

And the film's beauty, in many ways, is in its simplicity — as well as the confidence with which that simplicity is presented. Ultimately, what makes A Walk Among the Tombstones so satisfying is the script and direction of Scott Frank, who made the vastly underrated The Lookout and wrote Out of Sight, one of the best films ever made. While this one isn't quite on the level of the latter, it still serves as ample proof Frank knows how to do crime drama. And, mostly, he does this with restraint.

A Walk Among the Tombstones' two bad guys are pretty much pure evil, but it's Frank's handling of them that makes their turns so phenomenal. They're horrific characters not because of what Scott shows, but rather because of what he doesn't. In scenes that could've been literal and figurative bloody messes alike in the hands of a lesser director, audiences simply hear the screams of this films' murders — and, eventually, a few trash bags filled with the grisly results. But little beyond that is ever shown. It's all very deliberate, and Frank lets cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. linger just on the tools used to carve up the victims rather than focusing on all the slicing and dicing. In turn, our imagination fills in the rest — making the entire prospect far scarier.

If there's an obvious misstep here, it's in Carlos Rafael Rivera’s score, which provides more of a John Carpenter-Danny Elfman creepfest Rivera than the low-key complement for which this film yearns.

But on the whole, A Walk Among the Tombstones delivers on its promise of serving up some pulp fiction (if not Pulp Fiction) that's worth walking among.

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