"A Walk Among the Tombstones"

Liam Neeson stars in "A Walk Among the Tombstones," now playing in area theaters.

I’m not sure what startled me more Tuesday: the fact that I liked “A Walk Among the Tombstones” or that “Downton Abbey” star Dan Stevens has gotten skinny.

The film, which helped convince me a Liam Neeson character is your go-to guy when things get real, is based on a series of novels by Lawrence Block, featuring former cop Matthew Scudder.

This is your typical Neeson character: Hard-nosed man with a chip on his shoulder who can probably kill you three different ways with just one hand. He’s the man you want on your side in a crisis.

Scudder is a mixture of hardness and vulnerability. An alcoholic, eight years sober, he battles memories and temptation daily. A private investigator, he does “favors for friends,” and they give him “gifts.”

Enter Kenny Kristo, a drug trafficker in need of help. Kenny (a slimmed down Stevens, a.k.a. Matthew Crawley from “Downton Abbey”) is a man bent on revenge after unknown assailants kidnapped his wife, collected ransom and returned her. In pieces.

It’s a grisly exchange, but it isn’t the only part of the film that will leave you cringing. Kenny’s wife isn’t the first woman the kidnappers have brutalized, and she isn’t to be the last. These men are vile, disgusting and left me feeling like I needed a shower more than once.

The kidnappers don’t discriminate by age, and their M.O. is the same with each victim. She’ll be used, abused and sliced into parts. It’s horrifying and not for those whose stomachs are easily turned.

This isn’t a mystery, though. While initially shrouded in shadows, the bad guys are known early on. This isn’t a whodunit, and the twists and turns are minimal.

Instead, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” offers a taut thriller with a climactic ending that leaves you on the edge of your seat. Although, I hope your climactic ending isn’t ruined by some man in your row who feels it necessary to loudly express his feelings about what he’s seeing.

A PSA to my readers: If you or someone you know feel a need to discuss the film and can’t whisper, do the world a favor and wait for Redbox. Friends don’t let friends be obnoxious.

Despite its dark title, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” isn’t all doom and gloom. Set in 1999, my inner geek chuckled more than once at the various mentions of Y2K, the millennium bug that supposedly would crash civilization as we rang in the year 2000. What once freaked me out is now a nostalgic tidbit to smirk at.

Another nice element is Scudder’s relationship with a homeless teen named T.J. (Astro). The young man, who spends his time sleeping in alleys, the library or shelters, gives us a chance to see Scudder’s softer side. His bark doesn’t have quite as much bite — at times — with T.J.

Scudder is ornery and set in his ways. He doesn’t like technology. At all. Cell phones and the World Wide Web are foreign concepts he doesn’t want to learn. T.J. is young and willing to learn. The two form a bit of an odd duo, but they play off each perfectly.

Neeson fans will enjoy this one. It’s slow-paced and methodical, building to a nail-biting finish. Neeson is showcased in a role that’s become all too familiar in his recent filmography. However, there’s something compelling about Scudder.

Perhaps it’s his vulnerability as he struggles with the ghost of his past. Or the softness he allows to creep in as he interacts with T.J. Both the teen and Stevans offer solid supporting performances as well.

The film has a lot going for it. I recommend it for anyone who wants a good thriller. Or, anyone who wants to learn how to kill a man three ways with one hand. Take your pick.

Amanda Greever is the assistant managing editor of The Daily Times. Contact her at amanda.greever@thedailytimes.com, follow her on Twitter @agreever_editor and “Like” Weekend on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dailytimesweekend.

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