Reviewed by: Tober Corrigan
|Featuring:||Liam Neeson … Matt Scudder
Dan Stevens … Kenny Kristo
Maurice Compte … Danny Ortiz
Patrick McDade … Bar Owner
Luciano Acuna Jr. … Dominican Banger #1
Hans Marrero … Dominican Banger #2
Laura Birn … Leila Alvarez
David Harbour … Ray
Adam David Thompson … Albert
Kim Rosen … Waitress—Jenny
Eric Nelsen … Howie
|Director:||Scott Frank—“Minority Report,” “The Wolverine,” “Marley and Me” (2008)|
|Producer:||1984 Private Defense Contractors
Cross Creek Pictures
“People are afraid of all the wrong things.”
Liam Neeson plays Matthew Scudder (based on the popular book series by Lawrence Block), an unlicensed private investigator looking for two men with a history of violence to spouses of men with big wallets and significant connections to drug trades. For some, this premise alone might be worth admission. For others, it would sound all too similar to the recent barrage of movies featuring Neeson kicking butt and taking names. I found myself somewhere in the middle, hovering between intrigue and skepticism. Despite mixed feelings, I left convinced that there is something in this movie for all three camps.
When one considers all of the intricately-plotted crime-investigation shows on network television and thematically-rich HBO shows like “True Detective,” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” can’t help but feel a little late to the party. But the strength of the film is in its acknowledgment of this. Instead of being any kind of “game-changer,” the movie takes solace in being nothing more than a competent entry in the genre. This is mostly achieved through the film’s checks and balances.
It starts as a whodunit before turning into a tense thriller in the third act. It blends elements of a cold-case procedural with warmth and occasional humor, mostly provided through Scudder’s unlikely young sidekick TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley of “Earth to Echo”). It gives the audience hints of Scudder’s backstory without giving away everything.
Though the film’s more formal elements (cinematography, writing, editing, soundtrack, etc.) never shock, surprise, or impress, they do avoid many of the flagrant errors found in recent mystery-thrillers coming out of Hollywood (over-the-top villains, ridiculous twists, and never-ending third acts). The experience of watching the film never feels extraordinary because it isn’t trying to be. It’s just down-to-earth, nitty-gritty detective fiction.
The true disappointment, however, does comes from seeing the potential this film had to be more than merely passable, something worth talking about with friends in the car afterward. Like the mass-market genre from which it is based, it is only entertaining for as long as it lasts on the screen.
And, yes, there is Liam Neeson kicking butt and taking names, don’t worry about that. I actually found the amount of violence in the film rather tame, considering its R-rating. However, do not be fooled; there are objectionable elements. F-bombs, among other profanities, scatter themselves pretty evenly across the film’s running time. There are split-second moments of female nudity, though never in an erotic context. Though the violence is mostly restrained throughout, the climax turns bloody and stays bloody.
Most of the characters here are immoral and lost, as usually reflected in their choice of illegal vocations. Like Hitchcock, the moments that prove the most harrowing are the implied ones. We hear snippets of a tape recording of a torture scene. There are other implications of rape and torture, sometimes only audibly understood. This movie leaves plenty of room for the imagination, and that may unnerve viewers who were not planning on a thriller that left its greatest tension under the surface. Overall, though, this movie is a pretty tame R, and should be duly noted for its lack of arbitrary sexual content or violence that is unnecessary to the plot.
“…Tombstones” lacks significant moral takeaways. The ending suggests justice was done and that Scudder made up for past sins in the only way he could, with a gun. Perhaps the best question a Christian could ask from this movie is why a secular world finds redemption in justice. How is justice pursued in the Bible? Does it look anything like it is depicted here? This movie says a lot about what it expects the audience to find just or right. What would the Bible say about these things?
Violence: Heavy to extreme / Profanity: Heavy to extreme—“Oh Chr*st” (1), “Oh G*d” (2), “God” (1), “hell” (1), “damn” (1), f-words (30+), s-words (20), *ss (7), *ss-hole (1), and various sexual slang / Sex/Nudity: Moderate to heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.