Liam Neeson does have a “special set of skills” in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” but they’re not really on display in the movie. This isn’t “Taken 4: Armed and Fabulous,” it’s a character study with sadistic serial killers, a precocious kid and plot holes you could drive a truck through. Luckily it also has the jaded but still momentous presence of its star Neeson.
Neeson is Matthew Scudder, a recovering alcoholic who gave up his New York City detective’s badge and the bottle when he was involved in a wild street shoot out left two dead and one wounded. Eight years later he’s working as an unlicensed private investigator—“Sometimes I do favors for people,” he says, “and sometimes they give me gifts.”—when he takes a job to investigate the kidnapping and dismemberment of a drug dealer’s wife. As he gets closer to discovering the people behind the grisly crimes—with the help of T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley), a teenage street kid—the case gets gruesome as body parts and clues pile up.
Set against the backdrop of Y2K, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” does little to take advantage of anxious spirit of the times. Instead of playing up on that sense of unease, it is dismissed with the line, “People are afraid of the wrong things.” What’s left is an average police procedural about a world-weary ex-cop chasing down serial killers who do unspeakable things but little more.
The addition of a young character is more of a mystery than the kidnapping story. The grim tone of the rest of the film is lightened somewhat by former “X Factor” contestant Bradley’s performance, but why include him at all? To soften Neeson’s character? To make it family friendly? It accomplishes neither and in fact adds a dreaded “teen sidekick” flavor to a story that takes away from the grit of the serial killer storyline.
Neeson brings his usual action-man gravitas, but tempers it with a little humour and more old school police work than he does in the “Taken” movies. “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is the anti-“Taken.” It pulls its punches and would be better served by showing a little less restraint.