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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

A Walk Among the Tombstones movie review: only mostly dead

A Walk Among the Tombstones yellow light

Liam Neeson’s good performance only just elevates the general seen-it-before-ness, including a risible appropriation of women’s pain for men’s redemption.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Women’s suffering as a motivation for men to do something adventurously badass features in, oh, about one movie every week; this week’s is The Equalizer. But rarely has that connection — the abuse or murder of a woman or women kickstarting a man’s emotional and spiritual journey — been so explicit as it is in A Walk Among the Tombstones. Novelist Lawrence Block’s ex-cop private eye Matt Scudder, here in Liam Neeson (A Million Ways to Die in the West) mode, doesn’t work for drug-trafficker scum like Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens: The Guest) as a matter of principle, not even to solve the mystery of the murder of his wife after her kidnappers took the ransom and killed her anyway. (She is all but unnamed and never appears onscreen except in a painting; way to underscore that she’s not a person but an idealized representation.) It’s only after Scudder discovers that her body was disposed of in a particularly gruesome way — nothing is left to the imagination of the viewer — that he agrees to take the case. Scudder is so broken, you see, that a woman has to be extra dead before he can care.

Neeson’s good performance and an intriguing sidekick in teenaged TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley: Earth to Echo), a homeless kid who aspires to PI-dom, are the things worth checking out here. Less appealing is the general seen-it-before familiarity of everything else, from the creepy serial killers (David Harbour [The Equalizer] and Adam David Thompson [Martha Marcy May Marlene]) responsible for Mrs. Kristo’s death and others that Scudder uncovers to the way that screenwriter and director Scott Frank (The Lookout) sexualizes the terrorizing of one of the victims in the opening credits: we think we’re looking at a scene of lovemaking, as the camera and a man’s hands caress a woman’s body, until the hands turn violent and we finally are allowed to see the fear on the woman’s face. Most ridiculous — to the point of risibility — is the finale, which revolves around rescuing another victim of the bad guys and is accompanied by a voiceover recitation of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, of which Scudder is naturally a member. For him, redemption is possible only via anonymous female pain.

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A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)
US/Can release: Sep 19 2014
UK/Ire release: Sep 19 2014

MPAA: rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity
BBFC: rated 15 (strong bloody violence, sexualised violence, very strong language)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Beowulf

    Liked the book a lot, but it has one of the most brutal endings of anything I’ve ever read. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriquez might have filmed it, but I hope this director has not.

  • What happens in the end in the book?

  • RogerBW

    Kenan mutilates and kills the bad guys, and Peter Khoury, the “good” brother, ends up killing himself.

  • RogerBW

    The two things that were most important in the book, as I remember it, were the introduction of TJ and the firming up of Scudder’s relationship with his ex-prostitute girlfriend Elaine — whom I gather from the cast list isn’t in this film at all.

  • Wait, who’s Kenan? Who’s the good brother? These names aren’t in the film.

  • There are no women in this film who aren’t victims or potential victims. Scudder has no romantic entanglements.

  • RogerBW

    OK, in the book Kenan Khoury is the drug dealer whose wife has been sent back in bits, who hires Scudder to find out who did it. Peter is his above-board brother, who tries to balance the need to help family with his desire to keep living a legitimate life.
    I’m guessing this isn’t much of a film of the book, then.

  • So Kenan is Kenny Kristo here. There’s a brother, but he’s not very “above-board.”


    Both brothers are killed by the bad guys in different ways and in different scenes at the end of the film. One bad guy kills the other, and then Scudder kills the one who’s left.

    Wikipedia has an extensive description of the plot of the film, if you want to compare:


  • RogerBW


    I can’t now remember whether the affair was in the book, but certainly the bad guys are caught and killed without either brother getting killed.
    Huh. So with so much of the stuff that made the book interesting removed in order to make the film more generic, why is it that fans of the book are raving about the film? Is it just because “Matt Scudder” is on the screen?

  • David

    I’ll probably skip this one. Watching violence against women always puts me in a bad mood. I can watch a movie like Taken that’s trying to be ridiculous but serious shit gets me down. I already get enough of it from the news.

    One thing I would like to point out is that in real life the majority of homicide victims are male but in movies and TV it’s usually a female victim. It feels like a tedious and lazy way to provoke a visceral reaction from male viewers. I can watch something like I Spit on Your Grave because at least there it’s the female victim who gets her revenge rather than an outraged male.

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