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Walk Among the Tombstones, A (AF)

8/10

Stars: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook, Adam David Thompson, Brian “Astro" Bradley, Sebastian Roche, Mark Consuelos, Olafur Darri Olafsson

Director: Scott Frank

In the week when Woody Allen released his annual homework for the delectation and delight of auteurists it was almost inevitable that a movie simply made for moviegoers to enjoy would hardly merit much praise. And indeed, that was the case with this strong and satisfying thick-ear action thriller showcasing Liam Neeson at his hardman best. (For the delectation and delight of future auteurists, it seems unlikely that a writer/director with the surname Frank could be anything other than admirable).

Neeson skillfully blends hard-assed action and intelligent sleuthing playing the former NYC cop and one-time alcoholic-turned (unlicenced) private eye Matt Scudder created by best-selling novelist Lawrence Block. If the visceral impact of A Walk Among the Tombstones is anything to go by, the film should create sequels in the long-established tradition of Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer and Lew Archer.

After a rip-roaring shoot-out-and-auto-smash opening in 1991 NYC, the action segues to 1999 when Neeson (“I do favours for people, and they give me gifts”) sets out to hunt down the men who kidnapped and murdered heroin trafficker Dan Stevens (again casting out the deadly ‘Curse of Downton Abbey’: remember the embarrassment of watching Hugh Bonneville in Monuments Men or Jessica Brown Findlay in the misfire Winter’s Tale?). The subsequent murder and mayhem on some of the less salubrious streets of New York – location shooting Mihai Malaimare Jr’s atmospheric cinematography - adds corrupt cops, a pigeon-loving pervert and entertaining assorted gunplay and mayhem to the entertaining show.

Frank’s dialogue is suitably cynical (although I’m almost certain that I have heard Neeson’s comment “I’ll be back”! somewhere else) while and, in the case of the homeless teenage black wannabe sleuth, smartly played by Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, who becomes Neeson’s unlikely aide, the lines are smart and streetwise.

Incidentally, A Walk Among the Tombstones revives a character who was first created and then killed off (cinematically, that is) way back in 1986 in Hal Ashby’s misfire 8 Million Ways To Die, scripted by Oliver Stone.

This rousing reboot deserves to ensure Matt Scudder’s regular cinema reappearance.

Incidentally, Neeson's claim that a private eye must have a strong bladder rates high on the scale of useful information from the movies.

Alan Frank

USA 2013. UK Distributor: EntertainmentOne. Technicolor.
113 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 2, Swearing 2.

Review date: 20 Sep 2014