Film Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 21st October 2014.

The trailer might suggest yet another addition to the Liam Neeson Action Hero Kills Europe™ franchise but A Walk Among the Tombstones is a thoughtfully paced gumshoe thriller that harks back to detective mystery movies of old.

Sure, some of the tropes are present: the threatening phone call, punching a bad guy through a window, a kid sidekick and so on, but there is more talking than action this time, and that’s why this film works.

Matt Skudder (Neeson) is a former cop and alcoholic with a traumatic past. Working as an unlicensed private eye, he is recruited by drug kingpin Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) and his junkie brother Peter (Boyd Holbrook) to investigate a kidnapping where the ransom has been delivered and the victim returned, in pieces. Teaming up with wise beyond his years street kid TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), Skudder discovers that this is not a random event, but a series of murders.

Adapted from the novel by Lawrence Block, screenwriter and director Scott Frank, whose varied writing credits include The Wolverine and Marley and Me, creates an atmospheric gritty New York City where everyone has a secret and shifty characters slowly cruise the streets in panel vans.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is an intense and effective thriller that deserves your attention.

Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 12:46  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

This film review was posted on the Orange Post on Sunday 19th January 2014.

Two years ago, Kenneth Branagh proved he was capable of helming a fun, superhero flick with Marvel Studio’s Thor. He now returns with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and the result is a taut and slick action thriller that will keep you on the edge of your popcorn.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit revives the film franchise based on the late Tom Clancy’s popular series of pageturners, although this is the first entry to be inspired by the characters and situations rather than a specific book. Essentially a reboot, this time the titular hero is a product of 9/11.

Chris Pine is the fourth actor to portray Tom Clancy’s CIA junior analyst turned field agent, following   turns by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. After ably filling William Shatner’s Starfeeleet issued loafers in the revitalised Star Trek franchise, Pine is a suitable mix of reluctant hero and ass kicker.

Just like last year’s Man of Steel, any scene featuring Kevin Costner, as CIA mentor Thomas Harper, is instantly elevated. Costner was apparently in line to play Jack Ryan in the nineties. I couldn’t help but think that this film could so easily have been a passing of the torch with Costner in the Jack Ryan roile and Pine as newbie Agent Magilacutty.

Keira Knightley works well as the female love interest / spouse in peril but I was distracted by her choice to sport US accent. And Branagh is menacing as the villain de jour.

With the Bourne Franchise setting a trend in this genre for shaky cameras and kinetic action scenes, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a welcome throwback to a more traditional style. Although not a killing machine, Ryan would rather use brains than his fists but is capable of defending himself or evading capture when required. Branagh frames these scenes so the audience can actually see what is happening.

The film is not without its problems. Some of the dialogue is exposition heavy and the True Lies inspired subplot involving Knightley’s Cathy being unaware of Ryan’s occupation and then suddenly being thrust into a CIA mission does not really work. Ryan’s chronic pain problems are forgotten midway through the film. And I have some questions. Would a counter terrorism mission spanning two countries really fall on the shoulders of just two agents? And why couldn’t I take my eyes away from Knightley’s immoveable forehead?

Unlike last year’s failures of Jack Reacher and Jack the Giant Slayer, I’ll be more than happy for another instalment in this revived franchise.