The first few months of the year are generally a cinematic wasteland, a time when the studios dump their more forgettable fare into theaters. One of the few bright spots over the last couple years during these doldrums has been Liam Neeson’s renaissance as an action hero. Okay, so they aren’t exactly high art, but they have been enjoyable popcorn movies. If theatrical releases like Taken 3 and Run All Night weren’t enough to whet your Neeson appetite, then you’re in luck because A Walk Among the Tombstones is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
While most of Neeson’s action flicks are variations on the same theme, Tombstones is slightly different. Although, you do get the requisite scene in which Neeson warns the villains over the phone about his particular set of skills. This isn’t the standard shoot ’em up where Neeson dispatches an army of anonymous henchmen with lethal precision. In fact, the opening sequence refutes that sort of myopic mayhem by showing its ugly consequences.
The film begins in 1991 with NYPD Detective Matt Scudder stopping off at his favorite dive bar for his usual coffee and two shots of hard alcohol. When a trio of thugs robs the place and murders the bartender, Scudder chases them into the streets and guns them down one by one. Tragically, one of his stray bullets strikes a 7-year old girl, killing her instantly.
Flash forward to 1999 and Scudder is now a recovering alcoholic who earns a living as an unlicensed private investigator. He reluctantly accepts a case from drug dealer, Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens), whose wife was abducted, murdered, and brutally dismembered even after the ransom was paid. As Scudder digs deeper, he discovers the kidnappers have killed before and are targeting criminals knowing they won’t contact the police.
Director Scott Frank has a notable resume with writing credits on Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Minority Report along with an impressive directorial debut with The Lookout. Frank does an admirable job setting the mood for Tombstones with a dour look at the Big Apple. This is a time when New Yorkers were worried about Y2K, unaware that 9/11 would forever change their lives in less than two years. Death and violence are omnipresent. Tombstones may not be gratuitously gory; it can be gruesome, especially for those of female persuasion. This is a movie where women exist as little more than meat to be butchered. Another misstep on Frank’s part is a muddled climax that is clumsily cut together and made more awkward by the inclusion of Neeson reading each step of Alcoholics Anonymous.
At least Neeson’s presence is more than enough to keep you enthralled. He can do stoic and tortured in his sleep. Plus, it’s nice to see Neeson do actual detective work rather than hooking them up to a car battery. And Tombstones isn’t relentlessly macabre due to Scudder’s budding friendship with a street-wise kid named T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley).
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The transfer is practically flawless with deep, inky black levels and shadows that befit such an atmospheric thriller.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Dialogue comes in crisp and clear with sound ratcheted up during the occasional action sequences.
A Look Behind the Tombstones (12:07) is the standard making-of featurette.
Matt Scudder: Private Eye (6:26) features interview snippets from author Lawrence Block, who originally created the character of Matt Scudder in 1976.
Film Value: 6
A Walk Among the Tombstones is about as involving and richly woven as a typical episode of Law & Order: SVU. Still, it’s serviceable enough as a modern noir and a vehicle for Liam Neeson’s brand of vengeance.