Liam Neeson’s second career as a onscreen badass is in full bloom. Starting with Taken in 2008, Neeson has carved himself a niche as the gloomy European elder statesman of capable-action-heroes-who-have-seen-some-shit. His sense of authority, and sadness, provides a welcome relief to the never-ending parade of cobble-stoned abs that define most younger action stars. In A Walk Among the Tombstones, Neesons is paired with the most compelling script and able director of his surprising renaissance, with satisfying results.
The film centers around Matt Scudder (Neeson), a unlicensed private detective. In a prologue set in 1991, we see a wild-haired Scudder accept free shots of whiskey with his coffee at a dark bar. When robbers burst in a kill the bartender, Scudder, still an NYPD cop, follows them into the street and shoots them dead. One of his bullets ricochets and hits a nine-year-old girl in the eye.
Flash forward to 1999, Scudder is retired from the force. The “unlicensed” part of his detective practice means he doesn’t charge a fee. He does favors for people, and they give him “gifts” in return. He gets called the elegantly-furnished home of Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens, a.k.a. Matthew from Downtown Abbey), a drug dealer whose wife was kidnapped. Kristo paid the ransom, but his was still killed. He offers Scudder forty-thousand dollars to track down and deliver the kidnappers to him.
The script is based on a Lawrence Block novel of the same name, and the film captures the toughness and nonchalance of his writing. Hard-boiled is like cool, you can’t appear to be trying. Director Scott Frank also adapted the screenplay, and he and Neeson get the attitude right. Let the darkness speak for itself. Nothing is overplayed. Except for black-homeless teenager sidekick part, TJ (Astro), which mostly works while flirting with cliche. Highly recommended for fans of stories where bad people do bad things and sorta good people do bad things in the name of good.