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A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES stars Liam Neeson in an effective crime thriller that revels too much in its own twisted premise.
In 1999 New York City, Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is an unlicensed private detective retired from the police force. Eight years sober, he recalls the day he retired multiple times. It was 1991, and he was off duty at a bar starting the day off with liquor and coffee. When three men storm the bar, rob it and shoot the bartender, Matt is thrown into action. Shooting two of the perpetrators on the street, Matt easily follows the third criminal on the run and shoots him twice in self-defense. As he retells it, that was the last day he drank alcohol.
Matt is approached by Kenny (Dan Stevens of DOWNTON ABBEY), a wealthy drug dealer whose wife was kidnapped the previous day. The kidnappers snatched his wife and agreed to free her for $400,000, but after sending Kenny on a wild goose chase and taking his money, all they gave him was her remains. Now, he wants Matt to find the kidnappers so he can kill them. After some persuasion, Matt agrees.
The killers are just as studious as they are brutal, and they clearly know their victims. Matt, along with a young homeless boy he enlists, finds a commonality between the victims and is able to track down some information on who the kidnappers are. Just when he decides this case isn’t for him, the kidnappers strike again and abduct a young girl. Everything about his violent past and who he’s become impacts the decisions Matt makes to try to get the young girl home alive.
A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is adapted from a book in a detective series by award-winning mystery author Lawrence Block. So, it’s more of a private eye detective mystery than the typical Liam Neeson shoot-em-up action flick. This allows Neeson to do interesting things with his character. As usual, he commands the viewer’s attention. In likely his biggest transition thus far to the big screen from DOWNTON ABBEY, Dan Stevens is likewise compelling. Overall, the tight writing and ample direction make TOMBSTONES a thrilling ride.
Where the movie ultimately fails is the odd directing choices regarding the fascinations and sick practices of the villains. More than once the cruelty and perversions of the kidnappers is portrayed in a light that’s more quirky than concerning. Though not always graphic, the tidbits that they do give, be it in audio form or verbal description, are still too excessive and graphic for the imagination. Though the subject isn’t and shouldn’t be portrayed as trivial, a finer director could have increased the intensity while lowering the graphic nature of this evil. A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES also contains excessive foul language and other strong lewd content.
That said, there’s a lot to like about the movie’s message. Much of the story rides on Matt Scudder’s reconciling of a past tragedy, and this is emphasized through the 12 Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous. At one point, the 12 Steps are explicitly read. Though over the years the 12 Steps have become polytheistic, some of the steps heavily borrow from Christian principles, with references to faith, but faith in what God? Also, the hero is an unwavering force for good, even helping a young homeless boy rise above his circumstances. Scudder avoids violence if he can, but isn’t afraid to defend himself and others.
In conclusion, the movie’s positive content can’t overcome the excessive nature of the story and its execution. Many, if not most, media wise viewers will find A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES too much.

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