Director Scott Frank Wants You to Know ‘Walk Among the Tombstones’ is Not ‘Taken 4′
Scott Frank, the director of ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones,’ wants you to know that, even though his movie stars Liam Neeson, this is not, as he puts it, ‘Taken 4.’ (Technically, ‘Taken 3’ hasn’t been released yet, but it’s probably safe if we skip ahead. The point is still taken.) And he’s right – a mystery set in 1999 against the backdrop of Y2K (of all things), ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones’ has a slower, brooding, almost noir feel to it that is not at all anything like, say, ‘Non-Stop.’ Yes, I can see why Frank wants to get the word out.
Frank himself has an eclectic filmography – this is the same man who wrote ‘The Wolverine’ and, somehow, ‘Marley & Me' -- but if you listen to Frank talk about it, ‘The Wolverine’ is the anomaly. Frank, an ardent opponent of superhero movies, wrote a superhero movie. And he explains why ‘The Wolverine’ was different than most superhero movies … at least, as Frank points out, the last five minutes. (It’s pretty obvious Frank is not a fan of the last five minutes of ‘The Wolverine.’)
Frank also remembers Robin Williams, who, as a favor, cameoed in one of Frank's first films, 'Dead Again.'
‘A Walk Among the Tombstones’ reminds me of an older movie. I mean that as a compliment.
That’s exactly what I want people to think … when we used to make thrillers for grownups.
There are a lot of Y2K references in this movie.
Yes, and some of them are very subtle.
In 1999, everyone was so worried about Y2K, and there was a real threat that was coming.
Well, that’s my whole thing. You just hit the nail on the head. For me, that was the key to everything: Re-contextualizing it in 1999, when everyone was afraid of the wrong thing.
Why did that interest you?
Because now, Y2K seems quaint. We sort of lost our innocence in 2001. We were afraid of our computers crashing and getting stuck in an elevator. Now, that’s nothing … and it definitely helped me to give it a reason, a little more, than just setting it in the past. Because, I also didn’t want people to have cell phones and laptops and iPhones, because that just cheats. It takes away all the mystery when you can just get anything you want whenever you want it.
Do you think cell phones ruin thrillers?
Once you’re watching a show like ‘24’ and she sends him the blueprints to the men’s room at the gas station that he wants to go in to his cell phone, you start to go, OK. There’s no work; there’s no interesting.
Again, which leads to the kind of movie that I haven’t seen in awhile...
That’s what I want people to feel. The first line of this has to be, “This is not ‘Taken 4.’” Everybody assumes that with Liam and somebody getting kidnapped, “Oh my God, it’s going to be ‘Taken.’”
To that point, do you worry people might be bored at first because it’s not the pace of ‘Taken,’ non-stop action, and they might be expecting that?
No, I don’t. Because what I think it is, instead, is very tense. And from the first second of this movie, you know that bad things are going to happen … slow doesn’t mean “dull,” it just means “careful.” It takes its time where it needs to go. And in this case, it’s a very tense ride.
Casting Liam Neeson is a double-edged sword. On one hand, he’s Liam Neeson. On the other, he now has his own genre of movies and this movie doesn’t fit into that genre. People might be expecting another ‘Taken’ movie.
That’s right. It’s a double-edged sword is correct. Because you have perception and that’s the marketing challenge, too. That this isn’t ‘Taken’ or ‘Non-Stop’ or one of his action movies. But, it definitely can be for the same audience. It’s akin to those movies, but in an old school sort of way.
‘The Equalizer’ is more like what an audience would expect from a “Liam Neeson Movie.”
What’s ironic is ‘The Equalizer’ marketing campaign has successfully positioned themselves as sort of a cool, retro movie -- when it’s not. And our marketing campaign is going to position us as the opposite.
How does the writer of ‘The Wolverine’ and director of ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones’ write ‘Marley & Me’?
[Laughs] That’s a weird credit, isn’t it? And ‘Wolverine,’ too! I mean, I railed against superhero movies all the time and low and behold, I write one.
But ‘The Wolverine’ is a little different than most superhero movies. It felt smaller.
Well, yeah. The first thing I said to [director] James Mangold was, “If you want me to do this with you,” and we were friends, “I don’t know this world very much.” I read a comic, ‘Old Man Wolverine’ – I thought about it more in terms of ‘Outlaw Josey Wales’ or ‘Unforgiven’ than traditional ways you think about him. I just thought of this guy as very isolated. But the biggest thing I said to him is, “If I’m going to write this movie, the first thing I would do is take away his superpowers.” Because it’s cheating; it makes it uninteresting from a narrative standpoint. If you have a guy who is immortal, who all he ever wanted to be is mortal, he gets that wish and now he doesn’t have his powers. And he has to hide out in the middle of the countryside in Japan and recover – I think that becomes really interesting and why don’t we explore that? And, for the most part, until the last five minutes of that movie, they did.
Are you not happy with the last five minutes?
They are a lot different than the rest of the movie. And I think that’s a lot of studio influence. But, I think the movie, I thought that Jim was really brave to go in a different direction and it was actually kind of great – it felt different, the tone was different and it was really fun to work on. I had a ball working on it because you could explore the character. First of all, I would say this: I love stories. All stories. Early on, when I wrote ‘Little Man Tate,’ I got pigeonholed. Somebody said to me, “You’re not very dark,” and I had trouble getting certain kinds of jobs … and I learned very early that I didn’t want to get pigeonholed as anything. And my next script was ‘Dead Again.’
I remember how shocked I was when Robin Williams all of a sudden shows up in ‘Dead Again.’ At the time, it was very out of character.
You were not expecting him to do that movie. I think he was sort of fascinated with the idea of reincarnation. So, I think that’s why he came on to do it, and he did it just as a favor. Kenneth Branagh was kind of a star then, he had just done ‘Henry V’ and everybody wanted to really work with him. And I think that was another huge thing. It was kind of an odd but fun part for him to do. And he had a ball doing it. And he almost kind of seems like a bad guy, too.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.