Film Review – A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014)

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014, USA, 113m, 15) ***½
Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Entertainment One (UK); pr co. 1984 Private Defense Contractors / Cross Creek Pictures / Da Vinci Media Ventures; d. Scott Frank; w. Scott Frank (based on the novel by Lawrence Block); pr. Tobin Armbrust, Danny DeVito, Brian Oliver, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher; ph. Mihai Malaimare Jr. (Technicolor | 2.39:1); m. Carlos Rafael Rivera; ed. Jill Savitt; pd. David Brisbin; ad. Jonathan Arkin.
cast: Liam Neeson (Matt Scudder), Dan Stevens (Kenny Kristo), Astro (TJ (as Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley)), Sebastian Roché (Yuri Landau), Boyd Holbrook (Peter Kristo), Maurice Compte (Danny Ortiz), David Harbour (Ray), Adam David Thompson (Albert), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Jonas Loogan), Laura Birn (Leila Alvarez), Eric Nelsen (Howie), Razane Jammal (Carrie Kristo), Marielle Heller (Marie Gotteskind), Frank De Julio (Eduardo Solomon), Mark Consuelos (Reuben Quintana), Natia Dune (Nurse Anna), Liana De Laurent (Yuri’s Wife (as Liana Delaurent)), Danielle Rose Russell (Lucia), Samuel Mercedes (Jacinto), Leon Addison Brown (Stover).
A refreshingly old-school take on the PI genre sees Neeson as Matt Scudder, a former alcoholic NYPD detective who has cleaned up his act and now works as an unlicensed private detective. His latest client is a drug trafficker (Stevens) whose wife was kidnapped and brutally murdered, and as Neeson delves deeper, he finds it is the latest in the line of targeted abductions. Decidedly dark in tone, the script eschews the mystery elements of the plot and focuses on Neeson’s investigative interactions with the various lowlifes he has dealings with. Doing so he forms a reluctant partnership with a teenage black boy, played enthusiastically by Astro. Neeson is also in fine form and although the film never strays too far from genre conventions, it is a professionally packaged thriller that will satisfy noir aficionados.

Film Review – NON-STOP (2014)

NON-STOP (2014, USA/UK/France, 106m, 12) **½
Action, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), StudioCanal (UK); pr co. StudioCanal / Silver Pictures; d. Jaume Collet-Serra; w. Christopher Roach, John W. Richardson, Ryan Engle (based on a story by John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach); pr. Alex Heineman, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver; ph. Flavio Martínez Labiano (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. John Ottman; ed. Jim May; pd. Alec Hammond; ad. David Swayze.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bill Marks), Julianne Moore (Jen Summers), Scoot McNairy (Tom Bowen), Michelle Dockery (Nancy), Nate Parker (Zack White), Corey Stoll (Austin Reilly), Lupita Nyong’o (Gwen), Omar Metwally (Dr. Fahim Nasir), Jason Butler Harner (Kyle Rice), Linus Roache (David McMillan), Shea Whigham (Agent Marenick), Anson Mount (Jack Hammond), Quinn McColgan (Becca), Corey Hawkins (Travis Mitchell), Frank Deal (Charles Wheeler), Bar Paly (Iris Marianne), Edoardo Costa (Herve Philbert), Jon Abrahams (David Norton), Amanda Quaid (Emily Norton), Beth Dixon (Older Woman).
Ludicrous but fast-paced action thriller vehicle for Neeson. Here he plays a washed-out Air Marshal who boards a transatlantic flight bound from New York City to London. During the flight, he becomes the recipient of text messages demanding the American government deposit $150 million into an offshore bank account or his fellow passengers will be killed off one-by-one every twenty minutes. What starts off as an initially intriguing idea is wasted by a script that defies logic and character actions and interactions that frequently feel unreal. Neeson lends the proceedings some gravitas through an honest performance and is supported well by Moore, as a cooky passenger who has faith in Neeson. However, the finale stretches credulity beyond breaking point and is hampered by poor visual effects leaving the viewing experience an ultimately disappointing one.

Film Review – UNKNOWN (2011)

UNKNOWN (2011, UK/Germany/France/Canada/Japan/USA, 113m, 15) **½
Action, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Warner Bros. (USA), Optimum Releasing (UK); pr co. Dark Castle Entertainment / Panda Productions Inc. / Canal+ / Horticus UK / Studio Babelsberg / StudioCanal / TF1 Films Production; d. Jaume Collet-Serra; w. Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell (based on the novel “Out of My Head” by Didier Van Cauwelaert); pr. Leonard Goldberg, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver; ph. Flavio Martínez Labiano (Technicolor | 2.39:1); m. John Ottman, Alexander Rudd; ed. Timothy Alverson; pd. Richard Bridgland; ad. Andreas Olshausen.
cast: Liam Neeson (Dr. Martin Harris), Diane Kruger (Gina), January Jones (Elizabeth Harris), Aidan Quinn (Martin B), Bruno Ganz (Ernst Jürgen), Frank Langella (Rodney Cole), Sebastian Koch (Professor Bressler), Olivier Schneider (Smith), Stipe Erceg (Jones), Rainer Bock (Herr Strauss), Mido Hamada (Prince Shada), Clint Dyer (Biko), Karl Markovics (Dr. Farge), Eva Löbau (Nurse Gretchen), Helen Wiebensohn (Laurel Bressler), Merle Wiebensohn (Lily Bressler), Adnan Maral (Turkish Taxi Driver), Torsten Michaelis (Airport Taxi Driver), Rainer Sellien (Control Room Detective), Petra Hartung (Control Room Detective).
This mystery thriller becomes more concerned with staging its action sequences than with maximising the potential of its premise. After a serious car accident in Berlin, biochemist Neeson awakes to find his world in utter chaos. His wife (Jones) does not recognize him; another man is using his identity, and mysterious assassins are hunting him. With the authorities sceptical, Neeson must go it alone. When he teams up with an unlikely ally in illegal immigrant Kruger, the determined Neeson discovers the truth is more than he bargained for. This is a plot that would work exceptionally well in the hands of a master like Hitchcock. Here, however, Collett-Sera initially builds up the intrigue but resorts to action genre convention in the final act. Whilst the story may be hard to swallow, Neeson injects a level of energy and intensity that allows you to go along with it for a good portion of the running time. But ultimately the script, whilst occasionally clever, lacks finesse and the portrayal of the villains is a little heavy and obvious.

Film Review – THE GREY (2011)

THE GREY (2011, USA, 117m, 15) ***½
Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller
dist. Open Road Films (USA), Entertainment Film Distributors (UK); pr co. Open Road Films / Inferno Distribution / Scott Free Productions / Chambara Pictures / 1984 Private Defense Contractors; d. Joe Carnahan; w. Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers); pr. Joe Carnahan, Jules Daly, Mickey Liddell, Ridley Scott; ph. Masanobu Takayanagi (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Marc Streitenfeld; ed. Roger Barton, Jason Hellmann; pd. John Willett; ad. Ross Dempster.
cast: Liam Neeson (Ottway), Frank Grillo (Diaz), Dermot Mulroney (Talget), Dallas Roberts (Henrick), Joe Anderson (Flannery), Nonso Anozie (Burke), James Badge Dale (Lewenden), Ben Hernandez Bray (Hernandez), Anne Openshaw (Ottway’s Wife), Peter Girges (Company Clerk), Jonathan Bitonti (Ottway (5 years old)), James Bitonti (Ottway’s Father), Ella Kosor (Talget’s Little Girl), Jacob Blair (Cimoski), Lani Gelera (Flight Attendant), Larissa Stadnichuk (Flight Attendant).
This tense survival thriller is a solid vehicle for Neeson. Alaskan oil refinery workers, including sharpshooter Neeson, are flying home for a much-needed vacation. A violent storm causes their plane to crash in the frozen wilderness. As the small group of survivors trek southward toward civilization and safety, Neeson and his companions must battle mortal injuries, the icy elements, and a pack of hungry wolves. Shot in a washed-out colour palette, which adds further harshness to the already unforgiving environment. Carnahan directs his actors skilfully to produce naturalistic and believable performances. The constant threat of wolf attack plagues the group as the savage creatures pick the survivors off one by one. This is helped by the chilling sound design, which adds considerably to the foreboding atmosphere. One or two weak CGI effects and the familial flashbacks occasionally break the relentless suspense, but with Neeson at his grizzled best, this remains an absorbing watch for the most part.

Film Review – UNDER SUSPICION (1991)

UNDER SUSPICION (1991, UK) ***
Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Rank Film Distributors (UK), Columbia Pictures (USA); pr co. Carnival Film & Television / Columbia Pictures / London Weekend Television (LWT) / The Rank Organisation; d. Simon Moore; w. Simon Moore; pr. Brian Eastman; ph. Vernon Layton (Colour. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.35:1); m. Christopher Gunning; ed. Tariq Anwar; pd. Tim Hutchinson; ad. Tony Reading; rel. 27 September 1991 (UK), 28 February 1992 (USA); BBFC cert: 18; r/t. 99m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Tony Aaron), Laura San Giacomo (Angeline), Kenneth Cranham (Frank), Maggie O’Neill (Hazel Aaron), Stephen Moore (Roscoe), Alphonsia Emmanuel (Selina), Alex Norton (Prosecuting Lawyer), Kevin Moore (Barrister), Alan Talbot (Powers), Malcolm Storry (Waterston), Martin Grace (Colin), Richard Graham (Denny), Michael Almaz (Stasio), Nicolette McKenzie (Mrs. Roscoe), Alan Stocks (Paul), Tommy Wright (Hotel Janitor), Lee Whitlock (Ben), Noel Coleman (Judge), Stephen Oxley (Hotel Deskman), Colin Dudley (Hotel Waiter).
In this emulation of ‘40s and ‘50s film noir, Neeson is a private eye who becomes a double-murder suspect when his client’s boyfriend and his own wife are found dead, side by side. The sleaze has been amped up here with increased doses of sex and more graphic violence. The genre conventions are played to the hilt quite nicely in the first two acts, but the story goes off the rails in its final act as implausibility takes over with director/writer Moore keen to top each twist. A race against the clock element is also thrown in for good measure. The result is an entertaining but contrived and flawed mystery/thriller – not least because San Giacamo makes for an unconvincing femme fatale. Neeson, however, is good in the lead role and the period setting (Brighton, 1959 into 1960) is well realised.

Film Review – THE MARKSMAN (2021)

THE MARKSMAN (2021, USA) ***
Action, Thriller
dist. Open Road Entertainment (USA), Shear Entertainment (UK); pr co. Cutting Edge Group / Raven Capital Management / Sculptor Media / Stonehouse Motion Pictures / UTA Independent Film Group / Voltage Pictures / Zero Gravity Management; d. Robert Lorenz; w. Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz, Robert Lorenz; pr. Tai Duncan, Eric Gold, Warren Goz, Robert Lorenz, Mark Williams; ph. Mark Patten (Colour. 2.39:1); m. Sean Callery; addl m. Jonas Friedman; ed. Luis Carballar; pd. Charisse Cardenas; ad. Gregory G. Sandoval; rel. 15 January 2021 (USA), 26 February 2021 (UK – internet); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 108m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Jim), Katheryn Winnick (Sarah), Juan Pablo Raba (Mauricio), Teresa Ruiz (Rosa), Jacob Perez (Miguel), Dylan Kenin (Randall), Luce Rains (Everett), Sean A. Rosales (Hernando), Alfredo Quiroz (Carlos), Jose Vasquez (Isidro), Antonio Leyba (Rigo), Yediel Quiles (Jorge), Christian Hicks (Danny), Jose Mijangos (Emilio), Roger Jerome (Otto), Kellen Boyle (Dalton), Ann Barrett Richards (Bartender Clara), David DeLao (Coyote), Elias Gallegos (Agent), Rose Leininger (Waitress).
In this efficient but flawed action thriller, Neeson delivers a fine crusty performance as a rancher on the Arizona border who becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who’ve pursued him into the U.S. Whilst the film has echoes of other, stronger movies and ultimately fails to fulfil its promise, it is still a serviceable vehicle for Neeson’s grizzled action hero persona. Here his character carries more baggage and has stronger motivation for his actions than in other recent similar vehicles. The script, however, fails to fully mature his character’s relationship with the boy and slips too often into conventional action set-pieces.

Film Review – THE ICE ROAD (2021)

THE ICE ROAD (2021, USA/Canada) **
Action, Adventure
dist. Netflix (USA), Signature Entertainment (UK); pr co. Code Entertainment / ShivHans Pictures / Envision Media Arts / Ice Road Productions; d. Jonathan Hensleigh; w. Jonathan Hensleigh; pr. Al Corley, Eugene Musso, Lee Nelson, Shivani Rawat, Bart Rosenblatt, David Tish; ph. Tom Stern (Colour. DCP Digital Cinema Package. ARRIRAW (4.5K) (source format). 2.39:1); m. Max Aruj; ed. Douglas Crise; pd. Arvinder Greywal; ad. David Best; rel. 25 June 2021 (UK/USA – internet); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 109m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Mike McCann), Marcus Thomas (Gurty McCann), Laurence Fishburne (Jim Goldenrod), Amber Midthunder (Tantoo), Benjamin Walker (Tom Varnay), Holt McCallany (Lampard), Martin Sensmeier (Cody Mantooth), Matt McCoy (GM George Sickle), Matt Salinger (CEO Thomason), Chad Bruce (Shift Super Mankins), Adam Hurtig (Fred Ford), Bradley Sawatzky (VP Operations Jack Tager), Marshall Williams (Mine Safety Supervisor Tully), Paul Essiembre (Deputy Minister O’Toole), Arne MacPherson (Miner Claude), Gabriel Daniels (Miner Barney), Natasha Elise Kotzubei (Lead VA Nurse), Lauren Cochrane (VA Nurse), Harry Nelken (VA Administrative), Al Corley (Doctor).
A grizzled Neeson is the main draw in this cliched action thriller. After a remote diamond mine collapses in far northern Canada, a ‘big-rig’ ice road driver (Neeson) must lead an impossible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save the trapped miners. Saddled with a by-the-numbers script with some risible dialogue, Neeson and company still manage to inject some energy into the proceedings. Unfortunately, the plotting becomes increasingly illogical and the action sequences are unevenly directed and edited with sub-standard CGI.

Film Review – TAKEN 3 (2014)

TAKEN 3 (2014, France/USA/Spain) **
Action, Thriller
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. EuropaCorp / M6 Films / Taken 3 / Twentieth Century Fox; d. Olivier Megaton; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen (based on characters created by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen); pr. Luc Besson; ph. Eric Kress (Colour. 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Hawk Scope (anamorphic) (source format), Super 35 (source format) (some scenes). 2.35:1); m. Nathaniel Méchaly; ed. Audrey Simonaud, Nicolas Trembasiewicz; pd. Sébastien Inizan; ad. Christophe Couzon, Natacha Hatch, Dominique Moisan, Nanci Roberts; rel. 16 December 2014 (Germany), 7 January 2015 (USA), 8 January 2015 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 109m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Forest Whitaker (Franck Dotzler), Famke Janssen (Lenore St. John), Maggie Grace (Kim Mills), Dougray Scott (Stuart St. John), Sam Spruell (Oleg Malankov), Don Harvey (Garcia), Dylan Bruno (Smith), Leland Orser (Sam (Gilroy)), David Warshofsky (Bernie (Harris)), Jon Gries ((Mark) Casey), Jonny Weston (Jimy), Andrew Borba (Clarence), Judi Beecher (Claire), Andrew Howard (Maxim).
Liam Neeson returns for his third outing as ex-government operative Bryan Mills, who is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name. Like its immediate predecessor, this action vehicle is directed by Megaton, who again employs his staccato editing techniques to the action sequences robbing them of any sense of tension or rhythm. The plot formula is a poor man’s riff on THE FUGITIVE. Whilst Neeson is again watchable in the lead and Whitaker adds an element of intelligence as the pursuing detective, the plot implausibility and its increasingly cartoonish and nonsensical violence suck any heart or emotion from the narrative. The movie goes rapidly downhill toward its inevitably formulaic and over-the-top shootout finale. Extended version runs 115m.

Film Review – TAKEN 2 (2012)

TAKEN 2 (2012, France/USA/Turkey/UK) **½
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. EuropaCorp / M6 Films / Grive Productions; d. Olivier Megaton; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen (based on characters created by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen); pr. Luc Besson; ph. Romain Lacourbas (Colour. 35 mm (Fuji Eterna-CP 3514DI), D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format) (some scenes), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format), . 2.35:1); m. Nathaniel Méchaly; ed. Camille Delamarre, Vincent Tabaillon; pd. Sébastien Inizan; ad. Christophe Couzon, Dominique Moisan, Nanci Roberts, Atilla Yilmaz; rel. 7 September 2012 (France), 4 October 2012 (UK), 5 October 2012 (USA); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 92m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Maggie Grace (Kim), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Leland Orser (Sam), Jon Gries (Casey), D.B. Sweeney (Bernie), Luke Grimes (Jamie), Rade Serbedzija (Murad Krasniqi), Kevork Malikyan (Inspector Durmaz), Alain Figlarz (Suko), Frank Alvarez (Car Wash Attendant), Murat Tuncelli (Custom Officer Albania), Ali Yildirim (Imam), Ergun Kuyucu (Mirko), Cengiz Bozkurt (Border Guard #1), Hakan Karahan (Reception Clerk), Saruhan Sari (Waiter), Naci Adigüzel (Cheikh), Aclan Bates (Cheikh’s Aide), Mehmet Polat (Hotel Driver).
In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills (Neeson) and his wife (Janssen) are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter (Grace). This follow-up to the popular 2008 hit is basically more of the same – only this time the whole family is involved. Neeson picks up where he left off in the first movie, but the script sadly offers little that is new or challenging, leaving us with a greatest hits re-run that remains entertaining despite its implausibility and by-the-numbers approach. Megaton’s kinetic editing, however, more often induces confusion and dizziness rather than create suspense and thrills. Extended version runs 98m. Followed by TAKEN 3 (2015).

Film Review – TAKEN (2008)

TAKEN (2008, France/USA/UK) ***
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. 20th Century Fox; pr co. EuropaCorp / M6 Films / Grive Productions; d. Pierre Morel; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen; pr. Luc Besson; ph. Michel Abramowicz (Colour. 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision Premier 2393), D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), HDCAM SR (1080p/24) (source format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format). 2.35:1); m. Nathaniel Méchaly; ed. Frédéric Thoraval; pd. Hugues Tissandier; ad. Gilles Boillot; rel. 16 February 2008 (France), 26 September 2008 (UK), 30 January 2009 (USA), ; BBFC cert: 18; r/t. 93m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Maggie Grace (Kim), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Katie Cassidy (Amanda), Leland Orser (Sam), Jon Gries (Casey), David Warshofsky (Bernie), Holly Valance (Sheerah), Xander Berkeley (Stuart), Olivier Rabourdin (Jean-Claude), Gérard Watkins (St-Clair), Marc Amyot (Pharmacist), Arben Bajraktaraj (Marko), Radivoje Bukvic (Anton), Mathieu Busson (Undercover Agent), Michel Flash (Gio), Nicolas Giraud (Peter), Rubens Hyka (Leka), Camille Japy (Isabelle), Valentin Kalaj (Vinz).
Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a former government operative trying to reconnect with his daughter, Kim (Grace), in this fast-paced action thriller. His worst fears become real when sex slavers abduct Kim and her friend shortly after they arrive in Paris for vacation. With just four days until Kim will be auctioned off, Bryan must call on every skill he learned in black ops to rescue her. The movie coasts on Neeson’s charisma and macho performance as well as the tightly edited action sequences. The pace is such that director Morel manages to gloss over the story’s plot holes and its many conveniences. The villains remain two-dimensional targets for Neeson’s killing machine and there is only lip-service paid to the strained relationship between Neeson and ex-wife Janssen. That said, what we have left is an undeniably enjoyable and bone-crunching entertainment. Followed by TAKEN 2 (2012).