If you’re a cultured film cricket or impassioned film hound, there are two ways to go with Scott Frank‘s A Walk Among The Tombstones. You can praise it for being “an uncommonly well-made thriller,” as Village Voice critic Alan Scherstuhl did today, or you can say it’s too venal and misogynist (the bad guys are as animalistic and bloodthirsty as the Islamic State fighters) despite the gritty, well-honed, old-fashioned chops. But you can’t just wave it off. You can’t dismiss it for being retro (there’s nothing wrong with taking a basic ’70s-style approach) or for not being exceptionally well made (a ludicrous thing to say) or because it’s not cartoonishly violent in the rote style of the Taken films. Or because it invests in secondary characters. Or because it has a heart.
“The Taken films invite viewers to cheer violence,” Scherstuhl writes. “A Walk Among the Tombstones, with some moral force, insists that you want nothing to do with it.”
In short, you can say you don’t like Tombstones for whatever peculiar reason you may choose (as I often do), but you can’t fault the obviously high level of craft. You’ve got to at least show proper respect. Theatrical urban thrillers really need this kind of smart, low-key approach. Or…aahh, fuck it, maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s better to just let this level of writing and acting migrate to cable television where it belongs. But this is the kind of good-detective-vs.-maniacal-villain flick that nobody makes any more. It’s composed of well-ordered material and the right kind of instincts. It’s a bit like John Flynn‘s The Outfit, that 1973 Robert Duvall film that finally re-surfaced on DVD a few years ago. One of those tone-it-down, less-is-more exercises. And quite gripping in its own way. It just doesn’t pander to morons.
Not since last fall’s Counselor Wars has there been a sharper, more glaring divide between knowledgable, passionate film critics. I realize going in that whoop-ass fans have decided in advance to piss on A Walk Among The Tombstones by not attending or spreading negative word. But there’s no excuse for critics to put it down arbitrarily. Films like A Walk Among The Tombstones represent the last dying remnants of civilization in the urban-thriller form. In an era in which the genre has all but devolved into rancid cliches and visual velocity for its own sake, they’re about character, class and restraint.