This photo released by Universal Pictures shows Liam Neeson,  as Matt Scudder, in a scene from the film, "A Walk Among the Tombstones."  (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Atsushi Nishijima)

This photo released by Universal Pictures shows Liam Neeson, as Matt Scudder, in a scene from the film, "A Walk Among the Tombstones." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Atsushi Nishijima)

“A Walk Among the Tombstones” – on the trail of two psychos

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Universal Pictures

1 hour 54 minutes

The big movie this week was the YA sci-fi thriller “The Maze Runner,” but after two weeks of young adult misfires and several more scattered throughout the year (I’m looking at you “Divergent”), I just couldn’t do it. I read the series of books the film is based on and, frankly, wasn’t all that impressed. Naturally, since I decided to skip it, “The Maze Runner” is the number one movie in the country and getting relatively good reviews. The one I chose, on the other hand, “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” drew half the audience as did the tale of the maze-running teens, but it was solid, and it’s nice to see a movie made for grown-ups once in a while.

Liam Neeson is Matthew Scudder, an unlicensed private detective working the mean streets of New York City in 1999. Once a NYPD detective, Scudder washed out after a tragic accident several years earlier. On the wagon now, the private eye solves mysteries and attends AA meetings with equal fervor. When a mid-level drug trafficker named Kenny Kristo contacts him for help finding his wife’s killer, Scudder initially declines, knowing this kind of work only leads to more trouble. But a down at the heels gumshoe can only stay out of the gutter for so long, and before you know it, Scudder is tracking down leads and the bodies are piling up. It seems our hero’s on the trail of two psychos who enjoy tormenting drug dealers in the worst way. Along the way Scudder enlists the aid of a homeless teenage boy named T.J. to help him do research and navigate the labyrinthine internet which has only just recently become available. The deeper Matt Scudder digs, the darker the case gets, and it quickly becomes obvious that no one is going to escape unscathed.

I enjoyed “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” though I’ve had no previous experience with the series of novels from which it draws its hero. Author Lawrence Block has written numerous Matt Scudder novels, though the character has only made it to the screen once before, played by Jeff Bridges in “8 Million Ways to Die” way back in 1986. Liam Neeson is great playing a kind of world-weary badass, but here he leaves most of the violence to the bad guys, unlike his Bryan Mills character from the “Taken” movies. That Liam Neeson turns in a solid performance is not news, but I was more surprised to see a familiar heartthrob in a wholly unexpected role. Dan Stevens, until lately of “Downtown Abbey” fame where he played the e’er sought after Matthew Crawley, is drug dealer Kenny Kristo, a role he brings weight and emotional heft to. Using a flawless American accent and going from blonde to brunette, Stevens fairly disappears in the role and winds up being one of the best parts of the movie. You can next see Stevens in the thriller, “The Guest,” from the people who brought you the surprise horror hit, “You’re Next.” I don’t know if the movie’s any good, but the trailer is pretty creepy.

The meat of “Tombstones” is just fine. The film isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it’s a well-acted, well-written noir-ish thriller, and you could do a lot worse on a Friday night at the movies. I was a little disappointed, however, that some of the deeper themes never really hit home. The AA, aspect, for one, feels kind of tacked on. As I understand it, in the novels, this element of Scudder’s life is integral, but here it felt a little forced. Also, the film’s time-frame is completely wasted. Setting the film in 1999 offers a great chance to ramp up the fear factor in the film by playing it against the mounting panic that some were experiencing leading up to Y2K. Instead, it becomes merely window dressing, playing out in billboards and newspaper articles in the background. The Y2K phobia does provide our killers with a chance for a creepy line, which becomes the tagline for the film, but it’s never explored to any depth, making the 1999 setting a little pointless. Those issues aside, however, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” was definitely a walk worth taking. Grade: B

“A Walk Among the Tombstones” is rated R for language, nudity, gruesome violence, and disturbing scenes which suggest torture.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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