A Walk Among the Tombstones

By Kelan Young

Mailed on September 30, 2014

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Dear Jill Savitt

Dear Jill,

There's a sequence halfway through A Walk Among the Tombstones that is astonishingly well put together. It plays out like a typical meet-cute: a young girl walks into the path of two men, time slows down, their gazes lock, and cheery tunes plays on the soundtrack as man stare after her, slack-jawed. Except it's anything but typical, since the girl in question is the daughter of a Russian drug dealer, and the two men she's just entranced are a pair of demented serial killers who target the loved ones of organized crime figures.

Your excellent cutting really generates tension and puts a sinister spin on a familiar trope—too bad everything around it feels so ordinary by comparison.

To be completely honest with you, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about this one. On one hand, we have the great Liam Neeson turning in another fine performance as a private eye with a tortured past. It's also refreshing to see Neeson play a character who is much more human and grounded in reality than some of his other recent roles (providing, of course, one can accept the reality of watching a man renowned for his badassery be on the receiving end of countless beatings). Additionally, the villains on display are certainly formidable, with the actors exuding menace through subtle gestures instead of dialogue. That, and the brief glimpses we see of the killers videotaping and tormenting their victims, are genuinely chilling—and very difficult to watch. It`s hard not to get excited by the prospect of Neeson taking these loathsome bastards down, and you edit the final physical confrontation together very nicely.

So, what's my beef? Well, let's start with Neeson's sassy, streetwise, teenage sidekick.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Look, I understand (and even appreciate) the desire to add some levity to such dark subject matter, but this just isn't the right way to go about it. The humour works when Neeson tells a bad guy that he was able to trail him simply because of how much of a weirdo he is. But the pipsqueak aspiring detective mouthing off to waitresses and telling them not to offer him "sperm-killing sodas": horrendous. I suspect that, if you thought you could have gotten away with it, you might have cut him from the film altogether.

What ends up really hurting is how by-the-numbers it all feels. We learn who the killers are and why they're doing what they're doing almost immediately, and the reveal that they're rogue DEA agents doesn't pay off with as much power as it could (and perhaps should). Neeson does lots of old-fashioned detective work in the pre-internet setting, but nothing he learns feels surprising in the least. After all, there's nothing more enjoyable than watching someone slowly come to the same conclusions you've made about twenty minutes earlier. There are no real twists, and everything pretty much plays out exactly like you think it will. Which is kind of a drag.

If A Walk Among The Tombstones was the pilot episode of a new crime procedural, with you retaining editing duties week after week, I'd definitely be more enthusiastic. Instead it's just a barely-serviceable crime thriller that I've already forgotten.



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