By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The girl who’s gone in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” isn’t married to Ben Affleck. Her hubby is a drug dealer who, relatively speaking, is a pure-cut hero compared to the scum who kidnapped his wife.
She is also pretty much gone — aside from those lip-smacking bondage close-ups and tape-recorded screams so many thrillers traffic in these days — before the credits are over. She’s merely a catalyst to set the plot…make that, to set Liam Neeson … in motion.
Neeson has become quite the late-blooming action hero in recent years. “Taken,” “The Grey,” “Non-Stop,” and “Unknown” have catapulted the sensitive hunk from Oscar-bait roles to “Death Wish” material.
The surprising thing is how very good he is. Almost as surprising is how the movies themselves are often a cut or two (sorry) above the usual stuff. I’d put “The Grey” up against any number of existential meditations on man’s fate. And “Unknown” is twisty enough to have made the Master (Alfred Hitchcock, grin (it even had a blonde in it, just for him).
So here is Neeson, — still smoldering charismatic as he blows baddies away, — cast as an ex-cop who, through various circumstances, has become a sort of gun for hire. Think, the 21st century equivalent of such iconic ‘40s gumshoes, as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. In case we don’t get the analogy, an African-American teen who’s as book-smart as he is street-smart, invokes both names. The kid also becomes Neeson’s Robin-esque partner and, to his credit, he carries off the cliché quite well.
So does Neeson as the familiar don’t-rile-me quiet man whom the villains take too lightly — until it’s too late.
The movie’s title refers to several set pieces in a graveyard, as well as the fairly impressive body count. So, yes, there’s the much-patented gore galore, complete with an assortment of whimpering women victims. But unlike so many of its genre, “Tombstones” has a sobering darkness that doesn’t dance on their graves.
Maybe it’s the misty melancholy in Neeson’s Irish eyes. Or perhaps it’s a script that asks us to hang in with the story, not just the pulp fiction. Whatever it is, “A Walk Among the Tombstones’ is more of a movie than you might expect.