Liam Neeson swaps the kung-fu grip for a dose of hard-boiled sleuthing.

Liam Neeson (Taken)) is Matt Scudder, a one-time cop and recovering alcoholic who’s taken to scratching out a living as an unlicensed private detective. One night, he’s summoned to the house of a drug trafficker with a plea: help find the psychopaths that butchered his wife.

Scudder, understandably, recoils at first, but the deeper he gets pulled into this unsavory business, the clearer he understands the need to apply his investigative skills to take down the killers.

But they won’t go willingly. And with Scudder closing the noose, things get desperate and whole lot darker
and before the case is finally resolved, bodies will be dropped and inner demons will be unleashed and Liam Neeson is going to walk among a least two, maybe five, tombstones.

The above is kept as spoiler-free as possible because, while there aren’t any neck-snapping twists necessarily, the momentum of A Walk Among the Tombstones requires a pervasive sense of dread. And more than anything, that’s what this film has going for it: you never know when the bottom is going to fall out or how terrible things are going to get.

While not the rabbit punch to the soul that something like True Detective was, A Walk Among the Tombstones hangs its hat on the creeping fear in your gut that something real bad is going to happen to someone innocent real soon. And this “no-holds-barred” approach to characters’ mortality is revealed in the opening few minutes, setting the table for what’s to come.

It’s also why the film works so well. Liam Neeson may have reinvented himself in recent years as an action hero (which I fully endorse, despite the fact he’s really only made one decent action movie in that time), but this role shelves his hand-to-hand combat. Melees are traded for old-fashioned detective work, hyperactive editing swapped for slow-burn set-pieces.

So there’s your fair warning: if you go in expecting a guns-blazing spectacle (and the film’s marketing hasn’t done a ton to dissuade bystanders from this impression), you may be disappointed. I say “may,” because even I, a complete chump for all manner of cinematic beat-‘em-ups, was hooked on Scudder’s misadventure by minute five.

What I liked most about the film was its commitment to its mystery pedigree. Scudder does the dirty work and the narrative plays out like a hard-boiled caper from the days of yore. As a tortured soul with a tortured NYC accent, Scudder fits Neeson perfectly.

He’s a flawed man, but honest and consistently at war with his own darkness. But when matched up against even greater darkness, Scudder rises to the challenge and Neeson captures this ascendant arc quite well. It’s the driving character force of the film and, coupled with the genuinely compelling mystery, adds up to a worthwhile investment of your time and money.

Universal’s Blu-ray delivers a solid technical presentation, starting with a razor-sharp 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that keeps things clean, yet honors the gritty feel of the film with solid blacks and dreary grays. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track may not get that much of a workout, but it’s certainly up to pumping out the atmospheric score and sporadic gunfire. Extras are lean: the so-so Blu-ray exclusive bit “Matt Scudder: Private Eye” (a look at the character from the books and the movie) and a standard issue making-of feature.

verdict
Hardcore dick work that’s effective and absorbing. Not Guilty.

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Universal, 114 minutes, R (2014)

A/V
2.40:1, 1080p
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (English)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
DVS 2.0

SUBTITLES
English SDH
Spanish
French

EXTRAS
Featurettes

ACCOMPLICES
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0365907

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