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A Walk Among the Tombstones: Neeson Stars in Brutal Spy-Thriller
Liam Neeson's 'special set of skills' are once again put to good use in Scott Frank's latest neo-noir thriller, A Walk Among the Tombstones; a dark and a gritty spy-thriller that takes a rather a brutal approach to the notions of revenge and redemption.
Set in 1991, the story – adapted from the pages of Lawrence Block's popular series of novels of the same name – centres on Matt Scudder (Neeson); an ex-cop turned unlicensed investigator, whose love for booze has forced him to retire early and join an alcoholic anonymous support group.
During one of their regular meetings, Scudder is approached by fellow alcoholic, Peter Kristo (Holbrook), who informs him that his drug-trafficking brother, Kenny Kristo (Stevens), requires his services. After being summoned to Kenny's lavish home, it's revealed that Kenny's wife was kidnapped and, despite paying the hefty ransom, was killed and returned to him in pieces.
Scudder befriends a homeless but seemingly intelligent boy, TJ (Bradley), while conducting research and, despite his young age, becomes a close friend and an informal assistant. The road to revenge soon leads them to creepy cemetery groundskeeper, James Loogan (Olafsson), and Scudder, whose past still haunts him, soon learns that there's more at play than just a kidnapping.
Directed and adapted to the screen by Scott Frank, A Walk Among the Tombstones doesn't exactly fall in line with Liam Neeson's recent filmography and those expecting more of the bravado in Taken, might be a little disappointed. This is a slow-burning picture which requires a certain amount of stomach – thanks to its graphic violence – and staying power due to its longwinded and lengthy plot. The cinematography paints the New York setting in tones of grey which contributes to an engaging overall sinister tone.
Neeson carries the story like a true Hollywood pro as the enigmatic lead and he comes across as unbending, kind and utterly ruthless all at the same time. Unfortunately, the villains – played by Harbour and Thompson – are a little cartoonish, while Olafsson's character deserved a little bit more screen-time.
Taking everything into account, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a solid film that owes most, if not all, of its charisma, so to speak, to Mr Neeson.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.