With September not being known for high quality film choices, at least there are a couple thrillers to keep us highly entertained. Later this month, Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua reunite for The Equalizer, but in the meantime, writer/director Scott Frank proves he’s not just a one-hit-wonder following his directorial debut The Lookout — he’s also responsible for the screenplays: Dead Again, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Minority Report — with A Walk Among the Tombstones. The old saying: “They don’t make them like this anymore,” certainly applies here. Frank drenches Tombstones in good old-fashioned noir-stylings, adapting author Lawrence Block’s novel, to deliver one of the year’s best thrillers.
Opening in 1991 New York City, NYPD officer Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson), winds up in a drunken shootout, taking out three people after a bar stickup. Cut to eight years later and Scudder is now eight years sober and a private detective. One night, ex-junky Peter (Boyd Holbrook) approaches Scudder about seeing his brother Kenny (Dan Stevens). As it turns out, Kenny’s wife was kidnapped, the ransom was paid, but they killed his wife anyway. Kenny wants Scudder to find the men who killed her leading to another missing person gone dead. This puts Scudder hot on the trail of two men — Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson) — posing as DEA agents, with their sights set on local drug traffickers. Everything comes to a head when they take the young daughter of Yuri Landau (Sebastian Roché), triggering Scudder to face his demons, make up for past mistakes, and put an end to the murders.
A Walk Among the Tombstones is hands down the best neo-noir since Rian Johnson’s Brick. Frank even takes time to have one character — homeless teen TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) — name drop Dashiell Hammet’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. The finale even takes place during a thunderous rain storm for optimal noir effect. Neeson could sleepwalk through these roles, but he always shines. Stevens continues to impress, proving he’s more than just a pretty face on Downton Abbey. (He’s also damn good in Adam Wingard’s Sundance favorite The Guest.) Frank keeps the tension high from the opening scene and never lets up. Audiences flock to these kinds of Neeson films because he can play them so well, but A Walk Among the Tombstones is way better than Non-Stop and Taken 2. This is one of the year’s top thrillers, sitting right alongside Blue Ruin, Cold in July, and The Equalizer.
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