Rarely has a title so well described the experience of watching a movie. A Walk Among the Tombstones writer/director Scott Frank had a lot to go on here — a popular detective series by Lawrence Block, the innate charisma of Liam Neeson — and he still made a lifeless film.
Neeson stars as Matthew Scudder, a retired cop turned private eye with trauma in his past. He’s contacted by a guy who wants him to trace down the men who kidnapped a drug dealer’s wife, signaling to us that we’re in Hitchcock territory. Vertigo lurks dimly in the distance here, and Frank, who famously studied film at UCSB, might have been scared by the prospect because he chokes on the rest of the film, omitting anything original or thrilling. The strongest repeating images here refer to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that Frank wants us to watch as if they were the Baptism climax scene in The Godfather. It’s not a good idea. This is very conventional cop-drama stuff, torn from the pages of any 1970s hard-boiled cop show.
But the worst part is the way the film was sold. It has “graveyard” in the title, and the previews imply that the evildoers are supernatural. We enter expecting Neeson to do Taken versus Satan. But that never happens, and Frank never finds a visual home for his roving tale, or even a compelling motive for Neeson’s character. Scudder has a secret. He also has a penchant for turning down jobs and then showing up anyways. At one point, he even decides to adopt a young street kid afflicted with sickle-cell anemia. But it takes too long for us to figure out why Scudder is all about mixed signals, and when we do, it feels as if AA meetings are not enough punishment. Turns out he’s haunted all right, but not by ghosts. He’s just not very sympathetically written.