With A Walk Among The Tombstones writer/director Scott Frank cribs the post-9/11 Paul Haggis playbook and follows it step by step. Not that this film is anywhere near as odious as Oscar winner Crash, but it is cut from the same t-shirt that so easily allows hours upon hours of “never forget” navel-gazing and hackneyed token liberalism that is ten times more offensive than whatever good it thinks it’s doing. This is the type of “cinema” we get now, and there’s no end in sight. All a director has to do anymore is show a wide shot of the Twin Towers, or the space where the Twin Towers used to be, and you can immediately sense the implied, expected gravity forced upon your shoulders until you cannot help but feel the deep meaning of it all.
But this film takes place BEFORE 9/11 you say? It does. And don’t think Frank doesn’t exploit your post-9/11 perspective while he unspools this turgid, disgusting, and wrongheaded morality play about an alcoholic ex-cop (played by Liam Neeson), who is hired by the husband of a woman who was murdered and cut up into pieces, to find her killers and bring them to justice. The poetic kind of justice of course. In fact Frank leaves no avenue unexplored to twist his film into some sort of mash-up between police procedurals and the Sawfilms, which might have been interesting had the last four Saw films not been police procedurals themselves.
All the window dressing in this film suggests it believes it’s far more important than it is. From the ridiculous, pretend-iconic title, which sounds like it’s speaking for an entire genre of filmmaking, to the laughable climax which is accompanied by a voiceover of the twelve steps to rehabilitation from alcoholism. And of course along the way Neeson has to befriend a homeless black kid who is drawn so far opposite of common stereotypes, except for the street slang that Neeson mocks in aid of appearing to give tough love, that the end result is really no different than Mudflap and Skids from the Transformers films. Don’t go out of your way to not be racist, FFS! Additionally their relationship has no business even being in this film, and it sticks out as the token ray of hope in an otherwise dark cloud that hangs over the whole affair.
I hate to feel like I am being handled in a film, like I am an ATM machine that spits out empathy when a certain combination of buttons are pressed. Worse yet is when it feels like the filmmakers are breaking their wrists patting themselves on the back. Though it is intermittently watchable, and features a compelling lead actor who is hard to hate on, A Walk Among The Tombstones exists squarely at the intersection of those two red flags. A few days ago I reviewed 11’09″01: September 11 and praised it for precisely avoiding the kind of crap paraded before my eyes here. It’s so sad that only a fraction of people will ever put themselves in a position where they might agree with me.
The Verdict: Pan