Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fall Flicks: A Walk Among the Tombstones

Following the lucrative Summer movie season, by Labor Day, the party is over.  September, like January, used to be a dumping grounds for fare studios don't believe in.  Now, later in the month marks the beginning of the Fall movie season where mid-budget, star driven vehicles fight for audiences before the big Holiday and Award Season releases in November.  This weekend pits Fox's Young Adult action adventure The Maze Runner VS Warner Brother's star studded funeral comedy This Is Where I Leave You VS Universal's Liam Neeson starring adult drama/murder mystery A Walk Among the Tombstones.  Kevin Smith's horror-comedy Tusk also receives a limited release amongst half a dozen other titles in single digit theater releases.

The trailer for Tombstones showcase the world's most unlikely yet likely senior citizen action star, Liam Neeson, as a former cop working as an unlicensed private investigator involved in a murder case of a kidnapped woman who is killed after the ransom is paid.  After years of supporting roles as the badass mentor in flicks like Star Wars, Kingdom of Heaven and Batman Begins culminated in the surprise hit Taken, Neeson has had a slew of hit, adult skewing thrillers like Unknown, The Grey and Non-StopTombstones isn't as generic as the first, as esoteric genre as the second or surprisingly enjoyable as the third.  Whereas you might be inclined to think this is another, "Liam Neesons takes on everybody to find someone a la Tooken", Tombstones is actually a very deliberate, old school procedural/whodunit/murder mystery that is at times gripping, intense and creepy.  In the end though the flick is good if not great, solid if not spectacular due to it's low key story and less than fascinating antagonists.

Without getting into spoiler territory, Neeson's Matt Scudder is working to find the missing then murdered wife of Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) a seemingly sharp and calm businessman who doesn't make an honest living.  Digging deeper into the mystery, Scudder uncovers a series of killings with a common connection.  With the help of young street urchin TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley) and recovering junkie veteran/Kenny's brother Peter (Boyd Holbrook), Scudder uses his former NYPD street savvy to find the truth.  Sorry it's so vague but there's no major twists or turns at play here, it's a small story with few characters.  Based on the novel by Lawrence Block then adapted and directed by Out of Sight scribe Scott Frank, Tombstones is effective as a mystery thriller and keeps you involved, guessing what's going to happen next, tightening up and cringing at all the appropriate moments.  Shot in New York City, the grand scale and historic yet rundown industrial and residential neighborhoods on display add a layer of production value authenticity as well as overcast, moody sadness.  Neeson looks ruggedly handsome and stoic as ever with a hint of a New York accent spilling out every now and again.  Instead of being able to beat everybody up like his Taken or The Grey character, Neesons uses his wits and knowhow to get out of most would be altercations.  He does get to threaten the villain over the phone though in a great scene made better by the R rating.  As stated earlier, the antagonist of the piece left much to be desired.  They just weren't very interesting and their motivation wasn't exactly genre breaking.  Like each of the other characters besides Neeson, they're just thinly sketched and there for a particular purpose, no more, no less.

The rest of the cast do fine jobs but I honestly didn't recognize a single name during the opening credits.  Apparently Stevens was on Downton Abbey and glowers really well while Holbrook rang a bell because I think he was in the running for Kyle Reese in the new Terminator film.  You ain't no Michael Biehn, bro!  But honestly he probably could have pulled it off with more dimension than Jai Courtney's I'm sure to be hardass thug portrayal.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty's Olafur Darri Olafsson shows up as a sad yet menacing cemetery grounds keeper integral to the investigation who I recognized just by his voice.  The inclusion of a spunky young sidekick could have veered into cheese territory but Astro and Neesons keep it real talking about literary private detectives, not feeling sorry for themselves and how to use firearms to off oneself.

Hitting theaters on the same weekend as last year's extremely satisfying kidnapping thriller Prisoners, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a nice throwback to a simpler style of film complete with a 1999 setting and Y2K mentions but doesn't hit the emotional marks of for adult slow burners like the Hugh Jackman starrer or say Kurt Russell's cross country kidnapping jaunt Breakdown and doesn't contain the excitement of something like Jack Reacher.

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