A Walk Among the Tombstones (Movie) Review: The spectrum of male masculinity according to Liam Neeson.

A Walk Among the Tombstones Movie Review

The spectrum of male masculinity according to Liam Neeson.

Hello. This is AKIA talking from Korea. If you do not know yet, I am part of the male species. Just saying as my audience seems to be predominantly female. Even though I am curious of what that experience would be like sometimes,  I am male and I’m pretty happy with that fact. This is enforced every time I go to the men’s room and see lines forming in front of the ladies’. However, even for me,   the concept of masculinity is a complex one.


The concept of masculinity has been changing so much over the past few decades that I am not very clear of what it is at this point. The only real thing that I clearly associated with this discussion is a lot of past emotional turmoil. For most places in the world, masculinity is strongly associated with suffering and restraint. Only recently has this relationship been challenged. Korea is no exception. Compared to some other countries, we are rather late on the “change” train.

In Hollywood movies, this shift and confusion in regard to masculinity has been relatively well documented. In the 80s and 90s, the macho view of masculinity was popular. As a result, we got a lot of macho action movies. Some point in the late 90s, this started to change. And, with this change, new types of movies which avoided asking the question of what is masculinity started to come out. Now, the old macho stars have all faded away. So, what are we left with?

The career of Liam Neeson
In regard to this question, the career of Liam Neeson is pretty interesting. Early on, he played more tough guy roles that represented the concept of masculinity although he was never macho.  This may have held back his career at the time. Then the winds started to blow in another direction. During the 90s, he started to get more sensitive and articulated male roles which represented the new men of the age. This change ended up somewhat stagnating his career as there has always been this intensity to him that denied being domesticated.

In the 2000s, he started to get more elder statesmen role as he got older. In a way, these roles were representing the adult males in the peak of their social careers albeit not the same in their personal lives. Then, he starred in “Taken” (2008). In this movie, he transitioned into male roles that represented the male on decline. These are the males who are regretful, dissatisfied, disillusioned, and just simply tired. These males are those males who lived life according to the concept of masculinity of the time and now see that there is no fulfillment at the end. And this is where Liam Neeson is still striving at the moment.

What is more interesting is that even within this current narrow range of roles, the roles Liam Neeson plays differs subtly according to the degree of  dissatisfaction and disillusionment. In “Taken” (2008), his character still had a sliver of happiness and hope. In “Non-Stop” (2014), his character was on the verge of crashing and burning. In the “The Grey” (2011), his character had already been stomped out of all hope and was just a walking dead.

I am not talking about Zombies!

And, while I like “The Grey” (2011), Liam Neeson is such a charming guy that you do not want to see him without any hope. But, at the same time, you do not want to see him actually happy since it would rather be boring. In a way, he is the adult version of the brooding emo hunk kid without all the irritating immaturity and pettiness of youth. At least, what Hollywood thinks is youth in any case.

A Walk Among the Tombstones
This movie hits just the right spot in the spectrum of Liam Neeson’s masculine characters. He is not too cold or hot. He is just… right and delicious in this movie. Liam Neeson plays a former cop turned unlicensed private detective who was hired to track and identify some serial killers.  

One thing I have to warn you is that this does not mean this movie is great or for everyone. This is a through and through detective movie. If you do not like this movie genre, you may not really like the movie as much as the movie warrants.  However, there are some attempts for a wider appeal made by the movie not including casting Liam Neeson. While there are references to “hard boiled” noir characters in the movie, it is not as “hard boiled” to be called a noir although there are elements of this movie genre in the movie.  The movie does have a more gooey center than the  “hard boiled” noir movies.  I mean Liam Neeson has an orphan sidekick he pseudo adopts. Think batman and robin without the money or spandex.

Another thing that you need to know going into the movie is that it is not really a mystery solving crime movie. The audience is shown what is going on pretty early on even though this is not the case for Liam Neeson’s character on screen. The focus of the movie is showing journey of Liam Neeson’s character intersecting with antagonists at the end of the movie. Just think the TV criminal procedural show “Criminal minds” but without the team and fancy FBI stuff. The intersection of protagonist and antagonist leads to a big showdown which is somewhat reminiscent of a western climax with guns and a posse. This is pretty entertaining as a whole since it lets you tag along with Liam Neeson who is a tortured soul but still hanging in there taking one day at a time. Did I told you Liam Neeson’s character is an alcoholic and AA meetings play a rather big role in the plot?

Women…? Not really in the movie.
 The other thing interesting about the movie in regard to masculinity is that there are not many times that a female is on screen in the movie even though the crimes, that are the subject of the movie, are perpetrated on females. At least, there are no female CHARECTERS in the real sense in the movie. Females are just victims here.  It does not even give us a femme fatale or a love interest who are basic tropes of the noir genre. In other words, it is a sausage fest and I think it was an appropriate approach for the story the movie is telling.  

The story is about a man finding some simple hope and forming relationships in the sea of darkness. Any kind of romantic relationship would be too advanced for the state the character is in. The orphan side kick is enough for him at this point in his life. He just needs to be a paternal figure to a boy at this point. It is enough and the only thing he can really handle.

What more?
While the antagonists are sufficiently creepy and twisted for the story, they are not as well developed as I would have liked. They feel like an average villain in a “Criminal minds” episode. I actually think one actor who is a villain had played roles in several TV procedural shows including “Criminal minds” prior to this movie. I have seen better villains in the TV show.

Since the movie had chosen to show a lot of the antagonists before the climax of the movie, there was more than enough chances to see how the villains’ minds and fetishes ticked. However, the movie does not go into it much. It is a shame since the twisted mirror images of masculinity could have created some interesting contrasts to Liam Neeson’s character’s masculinity. For a movie all about masculinity, it would have given the movie more depth which is a weakness of the movie.

While the strong directing and charm/skill of Liam Neeson  as an actor hides it, the truth is that the movie is not that emotionally deep. It is rather a simply story but told well. While the villains are average, the crime itself is interesting and creepy.

At the end
What can I say more?  This movie has Liam Neeson at his best doing what we want him to do. This in itself is worth the price of admissions. While the movie does not have a fast pace, the director moves the story along at a steady pace and builds up the suspense while letting Liam Neeson shine in several character moment.  

I give this movie a solid A-. Go see it if you like Liam Neeson and light noir movies or TV crime procedural shows. 


  1. Mariana Ferreira AlbuquerqueSeptember 20, 2014 at 12:34 AM

    TOP is my ultimate K-Pop bias but I do agree with you about his acting... He's not that good. I personally stood staring at the screen with an wtf expression all the way through Commitment and I don't know if that will change soon.
    Nevermind, thank you for your review. A+ for you :D

  2. I actually thought he was good in the commitment but the story was lacking and quite random at some points. But as some one once mentioned, his charisma shines the most on stage so I hope he focuses on that for a while xD

  3. I agree to some degree on his acting, but I do think we have to consider the material he is acting in. I don't think Commitment or Tazza 2 require stellar acting. Commitment was a typical action movie and this seems like a fun movie so really stretching the acting chops is probably not required. But TOP has incredible charisma and as time goes on and maybe better acting mentors, someone who can help him be a better actor and bring the right elements to the screen I believe he will be quite successful. He just needs the right director and better actors around him to learn from but I think he is on the right track.

  4. I don't know... when I feel TOP can not really act then I remember his acting in Into The Fire.. I guess he can act, but didn't showed much because of the storyline and the character he played. It's too save. Wish he choose the more challenging bold character with better storyline for the next project. But I want TOP in music more..