"I do favors for people and in return they give me gifts."
If you go into this film without having seen the trailers you might expect another action vehicle from Liam Neeson, but as soon as this gritty film begins you know you aren't getting your average revenge flick. This is a much darker and gloomy film where the atmosphere and tone take a primary seat in this procedural detective tale. The story is secondary because what really is at the core of this film directed by Scott Frank (The Lookout) is the style. Frank succeeds at setting the eerie and uncomfortable atmosphere of this stylish thriller which will remind audiences of some of Fincher's earlier films. The dark atmosphere will turn off some audiences who were expecting another fun action film because the downbeat tone won't please mainstream audiences. At times the film is much more reminiscent to Neeson's work in The Grey than what he has done lately, but despite the strong performance, the main character of A Walk Among the Tombstones is the city which has been manipulated by Frank to appear gloomy and dark. This is what Frank manages to do best with his film, unfortunately he fails with the story and some of the subplots involved. The pacing begins to drag and the movie feels overlong because despite the somber atmosphere there is not much going on story wise when all the secondary characters and subplots begin to overpopulate the film. Neeson does what it takes to elevate the material when things begin to feel out of place and manages to make this film worth while and engaging. It's too bad Frank wasn't able to trim the subplots down a bit because he had a much better and promising film somewhere along the way. Tombstones does succeed in making the audience feel uncomfortable and it will make most feel a bit undecided as to how they feel about it long after it has ended. I find myself in-between, giving it a positive grade but not as entirely satisfied as I could have been after a promising opening sequence.
I tend to enjoy Liam Neeson in all of his films so I really don't complain when I go see one of his mind numbing action flicks like Taken because I have a good time with it. In Tombstones he truly shows he has what it takes to undertake stronger and more complex roles. Neeson gives a solid performance once again and the film is worth checking out just for him. Despite being a very different film from his latest action films he does get a scene on the phone once again. No one knows how to threaten people over the phone like Neeson so of course producers couldn't miss the opportunity to have him do it. I don't get tired of it either. The rest of the characters in this film are forgettable considering it centers on Neeson's lonely character in the midst of a corrupted and dark New York City. Having the film set in 1999 along with the downbeat atmosphere constantly reminds the viewer of what is going to happen in the near future. We get a very ugly glimpse of humanity and that is where Frank succeeds because the film never tries to glamorize murders like so many modern films try to do. It doesn't even worry about explaining their motivations, it simply presents this dark atmosphere where there are no other interesting characters than Liam Neeson. The greatest failure of the film is the inclusion of a homeless kid who helps Neeson, but this subplot completely misfires and only makes the film feel more disconnected. Other than those few issues I had with Tombstones I think it is a strong adaptation of one of Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder novels. It gets a lot of credit for being able to create such a dark atmosphere.