A Walk Among the Tombstones is a frustratingly inept piece of storytelling.
Liam Neeson stars as Matthew Scudder, a recovering alcoholic and ex-cop. Scudder quit the force after gunning down some street toughs robbing his neighborhood bar. His superiors begged him to stay, calling him a hero and giving him a commendation. Scudder quit anyway. He quit drinking too. Later, we learn his actions weren’t quite so heroic.
Scudder makes his living as an unlicensed private investigator. He goes to work for a drug trafficker who’s wife was kidnapped, raped, tortured, and killed. The trail leads Scudder to a pair of horrific sociopaths.
Scudder works the case as the killers stalk their next target. A better film would focus on the creepy killers, but this script doubles down on cop movie tropes.
Scudder acquires a sidekick in the form of a plucky, street-smart homeless boy named TJ. TJ has sickle-cell anemia; a plot point designed to engender audience sympathy and facilitate an improbable third act. Will TJ break through Scudder’s tough exterior? I think you know the answer.
The film’s contempt for its audience’s intelligence is galling. Scudder verbalizes every clue, even when it makes no sense for him to do so. At one point, Scudder discovers some badly written romance fiction. He reads it aloud even though he’s alone and the camera is on the page.
Spoon-feeding plot-points like this causes the film to drag. Consider the opening sequence. Scudder sits in a car with his partner, who's bemoaning Scudder's drinking, saying he worries he can't count on Scudder to have his back. Scudder gets out of the car and walks into a bar. It's morning. He grabs a paper and sits down. Without a word, the bartender brings Scudder a coffee and two shots of whiskey.
Why not open with Scudder entering the bar? The morning light and wordless exchange tell us everything. And the partner? We never see him again.
Wikipedia tells me the film combines several Lawrence Block novels. Maybe the script condensed too many subplots into a single movie, or maybe the books were just bad. Either way, it’s pretty damning that Liam Neeson’s would-be New York accent is the least of this film’s problems.