'A Walk Among the Tombstones' (R)

A Walk Among the Tombstones has at its center a great character seeking a good movie. Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson), created by mystery writer Lawrence Block in a series of novels, is a former NYPD cop turned unlicensed private investigator; a recovering alcoholic (eight years sober) who lives alone, speaks in a tough-guy rattle and is haunted by his last days on the force. In the film’s early scenes, he’s pulled into a troubling case: The wife of a drug dealer (Dan Stevens) has been kidnapped and brutally murdered, and Scudder must find the killers before they can strike again.

Neeson, playing a character far more subtle and believable than his Taken persona (though he does, somewhat implausibly, punch somebody out through a closed window), shows a quiet, brooding intelligence here that you’re drawn to; this man has stories he isn’t telling. And Stevens, continuing his Downton Abbey Redemption Tour (see also The Guest, opening this week), demonstrates a ratty, nasal little voice that perfectly suits his Nabokov-reading trafficker.

But this film, written and directed by Scott Frank (The Lookout), is a grim sit. Shot from strange, disorienting angles, it has a disturbing emphasis on gruesome sexual crimes against women, particularly its creepy credit sequence; a choice perhaps unintentionally underscored by the absence of significant female roles other than victim. I found myself wishing this Walk would end far sooner than it did — but that we could follow Leeson’s Scudder into another story.

Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook, Adam David Thompson, Brian “Astro” Bradley.

Writter-director: Scott Frank. Based on the novel by Lawrence Block.

A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 114 minutes. Strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity. Playing at area theaters.