Neeson lives up to star status in Scott Frank’s newest film

By Jeffrey Robinowitz, Staff Writer ||

There are few actors anymore that can bring out an audience on their name alone. I believe Liam John Neeson is one of those actors, and for good reason. A Walk Among the Tombstones is Neeson’s newest film, and, once again, he proves he does not just have the name to put butts in seats but also the ass-kicking skills to keep them there.

Writer and director Scott Frank is calling the shots on this one. Frank, known for writing Get Shorty, Minority Report, and, most recently, The Wolverine, has only one prior work for which he was director: 2007’s The Lookout, a critically—but not commercially—successful crime film. For this reason, A Walk Among the Tombstones could prove to be Frank’s first win at the box office.

With a budget of only $23 million, Tombstone could possibly recover its budget in the first weekend, thanks to Neeson’s recent success at the box office (outside of the Taken franchise, Neeson’s last three leading roles earned $28 million, $19 million, and $21 million). However, also opening this weekend are young-adult adaption The Maze Runner and family dramedy This Is Where I Leave You, which will not be directly competing for Tombstones’ action audience but will still be offering moviegoers more genres from which to choose.

Other than Neeson himself, the film is lacking in star power. The only other notable actors are Dan Stevens, best known for his work on Downtown Abbey, and Boyd Holbrook, who has numerous small appearances in a number of recent films. Unfortunately, neither of Neeson’s costars have much experience as lead characters or name recognition, which could potentially hurt Tombstones’ box office even more.

Former NYPD cop and private investigator, Matthew Scudder, played by Neeson, is hired by a drug dealer, played by Stevens, to find the killer of his wife. However, Scudder quickly discovers that these men are not ordinary murderers but systematic psychopaths who will soon strike again.

The synopsis for Tombstones is a pretty decent analogy for the entire film: a storyline just different enough in a few key places to still be interesting, despite its highly familiar surroundings. Together, Frank and Neeson do a lot of stuff right, but they also do a couple things wrong.

Tombstones also manages to be one of few films to feature a child character who is neither annoying nor completely useless. Initially, the character TJ seems like he is going to be another whining kid thrown into a movie for no apparent reason. He says some funny comebacks to Neeson and we, the audience, laugh because this little punk doesn’t know what a badass Neeson is. But, just as I was getting ready to disregard every scene TJ was in, he turned into an actual character with traits beyond the standard sidekick. A few personality quirks, a couple of unfortunate circumstances, a dash of genuine pain, and bingo! We’ve got ourselves an interesting character. By the end of the film, TJ begins to revert into a more typical sidekick but still remains relevant to the film because he, believe it or not, actually contributes to the plot in a positive way! TJ doesn’t get kidnapped, or shot, or anything else stupid, he actually helps! Nicely done, guys.

The film also does the Silence of the Lambs trick and takes the perspective of the killer (or killers in this case) and follows them around as they do their killer things. These few moments are highpoints of the film because the killers are so funny they actually made me laugh out loud; getting someone to laugh right after showing them some gruesome stuff is a wonderful juxtaposition of emotions.

Aside from those key points, Tombstones has a generally nice atmosphere and a few good lines here and there. Although the camera work, cinematography, and mise-en-scene are not particularly exciting in any way, they do more than a good enough job at providing a solid base for the film’s finer points.

Tombstones is, however, not without faults. While the pacing tends to drag, the story wanders a little too close to unbelievable at times, and a few of the characters aren’t quite as fleshed out as they could be, the biggest shortcoming of the film has to be the lack of action. Besides the fact that the trailer ruins the best death in the whole movie, the trailer also makes the movie look like it is full of action. Evidently, the filmmakers decided to film enough action scenes to fill a two-minute trailer but not a two-hour film.

At the end of the day, Tombstones is still a strong and quite impressive effort considering its players. For six years, Neeson has been able to build a career off of saying some cool lines into a telephone and is still going strong. For Frank, the film’s cool and somber tone mixed with a story and characters that are just a step above the norm makes for a solid sophomore effort. Hopefully this film will not only be Frank’s first commercial hit as director but will help establish his name as a reliable writer and director
combination.

Sophomore Jeffrey Robinowitz is a staff writer. His email is jrobinow@fandm.edu.

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