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A Walk Among the Tombstones: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014) movie poster A Walk Among the Tombstones

Theatrical Release: September 19, 2014 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Scott Frank / Writers: Lawrence Block (novel), Scott Frank (screenplay)

Cast: Liam Neeson (Matthew Scudder), Dan Stevens (Kenny Kristo), David Harbour (Ray), Boyd Holbrook (Peter Kristo), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Jonas Loogan), Brian "Astro" Bradley (TJ), Mark Consuelos (Reuben Quintana), Adam David Thompson (Albert), Sebastian Roché (Yuri Landau), Laura Birn (Leila Andresen)

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Liam Neeson has been acting for ages, but strangely he has only become a major movie star in recent years. It wasn't his performances in big, important movies like Schindler's List or Batman Begins or Star Wars: Episode I that made him a star, but Taken, an unexpected hit in early 2009. Taken didn't get great reviews,
but it did great business for an off-season opening. It not only established Neeson as a solo draw but as a brand. In the wake of Taken, a "Liam Neeson movie" has come to be a hard PG-13 action thriller in which Neeson has to right some wrong or settle a score in the take-charge way that he does. The 62-year-old Irishman has used this newfound power to headline wide new releases on a regular basis, something very few sexagenarians get to do.

A Walk Among the Tombstones was the sixth and final of Neeson's 2014 theatrical releases. Although last year began promisingly for the actor, between his voiceover work in profitable The Nut Job and smash hit The Lego Movie and his live-action plane thriller Non-Stop grossing nearly $100 million domestically, it slowed considerably with Seth MacFarlane's western flop A Million Ways to Day in the West and Paul Haggis' critically derided, publically shunned ensemble drama Third Person. Tombstones also disappointed and perhaps most surprisingly, since it most closely looked the part of a Liam Neeson vehicle.

In "A Walk Among the Tombstones", cop turned unlicensed private eye Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) looks for answers at a graveyard.

Those looks were maybe a tad deceiving, because Tombstones was a dark, hard-boiled, R-rated crime mystery, a slight but noticeable departure from the PG-13 action thrillers that have served the actor best. Adapted from the tenth of eighteen books in a series author Lawrence Block has been writing for forty years, Tombstones casts Neeson as Matthew Scudder, an unlicensed private detective in New York. The film opens poorly in 1991, with Scudder, then a cop, pursuing three armed hoods who have just robbed the bar where he was eating off-duty. We then jump to 1999, a time when the city and the world are preparing for Y2K. Scudder, a recovered alcoholic who still attends AA meetings religiously, is contacted by Peter Kristo (Boyd Holbrook), a young fellow recovering addict from his group. Peter seeks Scudder's services on behalf of his brother, Kenny (Dan Stevens), a major local drug trafficker whose wife has just been kidnapped and killed, despite Kenny paying a ransom of $400 thousand.

Scudder is reluctant to take the case at first, but he changes his tune after discovering that Kenny's wife appears to be the latest in a string of heinous murders. Scudder is able to link the unsolved rapes/murders/dismemberments to a pair of creeps with apparent DEA ties who have been targeting the women of drug industry figures and operating out of a discrete van emblazoned with a changing business name. When the young daughter of a Russian kingpin appears to be taken by these same suspects, Scudder takes over the negotiations to try to keep the girl unharmed. Aiding the rogue is TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley, a highlight), a young, orphaned teenager living out of a library whose computer expertise is of some value to Luddite Scudder.

Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) finds an unlikely sidekick in the street-smart, tech-savvy teenager TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley).

Setting the film at the end of the 20th century may seem kind of arbitrary, since the novel it's based on was published in 1992. But the setting, which manifests in some newspaper headlines and a Yahoo! reference,
goes a little way to distinguish the film and without dating its narrative. Tombstones does kind of feel like a '90s film, though one that back then would probably seek the star power of a Mel Gibson or, Neeson's most direct competition now, Denzel Washington.

Neeson, now a big enough draw for the material, makes a poor first impression, unconvincingly aged down with a different hairstyle and goatee while saddled with a terrible New York accent that's all over the place. The actor seems to abandon a dialect shortly thereafter, which is good because it's clearly not his forte. Aside from that, he clearly has the presence to embody this protagonist, who's sharp enough to uncover information and tough enough to confront evildoers.

Though nothing cutting-edge or pulse-pounding, Tombstones is absorbing enough. This is the second feature directed by longtime screenwriter Scott Frank (Minority Report, Marley & Me, Out of Sight, The Wolverine), whose directorial debut (The Lookout) was unprofitable but highly regarded. It overcomes that rough start and holds your interest enough to want to see it through, without ever exciting or intriguing to the extent that the best crime thrillers do.

Hoping to rebound from its fall theatrical underperformance, Tombstones recently hit DVD and Blu-ray combo pack immediately following the opening weekend of Neeson's well-performing personal rebound, Taken 3.

A Walk Among the Tombstones: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS (Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (DVS)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

A Walk Among the Tombstones looks great in the Blu-ray's moderately stylized 2.40:1 presentation. The fine visuals contribute atmosphere while upholding the high standards you expect for a new studio film. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also pleases, especially when it comes to life in a dynamic climax. The Blu-ray is also equipped with Universal's uHear feature, which will let you clarify a missed line with the touch of a single button, rewinding to replay the just passed moment with subtitles activated.

Take that, orange ladder! "A Look Behind the Tombstones" reveals new items found on the graveyard set. Crime novelist Lawrence Block discusses his most famous character in "Matt Scudder: Private Eye."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

A Walk Among the Tombstones is joined by just two bonus features on Blu-ray, only one of which also makes it to the DVD.

The first of the two HD featurettes, "A Look Behind the Tombstones" (12:07) is our general making-of piece,
which discusses the characters, cast, and settings.

"Matt Scudder: Private Eye" (6:26), the Blu-ray exclusive, gathers comments from author Lawrence Block and the filmmakers on the novel series from which this springs and the hero whom Liam Neeson plays here.

The discs open with a generally unappealing collection of trailers, which promote The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power, The Guest, "Dominion", Nightcrawler, Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer's Curse (there was a Dragonheart 2?!), Ouija, Dracula Untold, and The Man with the Iron Fists 2. None of these are accessible by menu and Tombstones' own trailer is regrettably not included.

On each disc, the menu attaches score to a wide rendering of the theatrical one-sheet artwork. The Blu-ray does not let you set bookmarks, but does allow you to resume playback. Topped by an embossed slipcover, the standard blue keepcase holds the two plain silver discs in addition to an insert supplying your Digital HD UltraViolet code and directions.

Liam Neeson sports a different look playing Scudder as an off-duty cop in the film's 1991-set prologue.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A Walk Among the Tombstones is an okay mystery thriller. It holds you captive and engaged without doing anything that will make you remember it a week or so after seeing it. If you enjoy Liam Neeson in leading man mode, but have grown a little tired of his vengeance action, this private eye flick may be worth carving two hours out for a viewing.

Universal's Blu-ray combo pack is light on extras, but delivers a good feature presentation. Still, it's not a movie many will be compelled to own, at least not until it carries a much lower price.

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Reviewed January 26, 2015.



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