Be a Body Part of it, New York, New York.
A Walk Amongst the Tombstones is a multiple throwback, and a pleasing one at that. There’s nostalgia on nostalgia; what you might call layered atmospherics. For a start it’s a neo-noir. Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe are name checked early on, in case the dark past of Liam Neeson’s grisly, lived-in P.I and a torrid case involving a nihilistic set of woman-hating kidnappers wasn’t evocative enough. Then there’s the backdrop: New York, 1999. It’s a city suffused with pre-millennial anxiety; the now charming notion that the world’s on the brink on the technological collapse, which here is a neat proxy for civilization in decline. But then this is New York before the storm, before its darkest days, and the audience’s knowledge of that forthcoming apocalyptic moment adds to the air of foreboding. We just know the World Trade Center will turn up at some point, a nod to the horrors to come, and an unfortunate glance at the new one aside (a roof top cameraman executing an obfuscatory focus pull a moment too late), there it is at the close: two towers of clunky, chunky symbolism.
But Scott Frank’s movie isn’t strictly a period piece, though the year compliments the action, rather an exercise in creating mood, and he’s very successful in conjuring a bleak cityscape for Neeson’s dejected ‘tech to investigate. As you may expect in a movie of this kind, there’s encounters with shady characters, all of whom know more than they’re saying, and a redemption arc for our troubled antihero. In the noirs of old he’d be plucking a damsel in distress from the grip of charmless confederates, but in this modern spin on an old tune, Neeson’s devotes his energies to bolstering Brian Bradley’s wayward teenager; a chance to atone for the accidental homicide of a child bystander in the shootout that shaped his troubled psyche.
There’s nothing new here but Frank’s film has got a couple of things going for it, grit and a solemn, understated turn from a well-cast Neeson, whose gruff voice and lined puss, are a snug fit for the material. As ever with this sub-genre, you need to focus in order to be sure about who was doing what to whom and why, but you leave A Walk Amongst the Tombstones content that you’ve seen a worthy addition to the neo-noir canon, fostering the hope that we may one day see more of Neeson’s no nonsense loner.