Run All Night (2015)
No Sin Goes Unpunished
Back in 2008, veteran actor Liam Neeson uttered the famous phrase, ‘I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.’ Strangely, these few words have pretty much shaped Neeson’s career for the better part of the last decade, as the 62-year-old actor has made quite a name for himself in the ‘killing game,’ starring in a string of similarly themed vengeance/ action flicks following the release of Taken, which became a hugely successful runaway hit back in 2008, spawning an unnecessary three picture franchise. A far cry from his Oscar nominated performance in Schindler’s List (1993), Neeson is back, doing what he now does best, dishing out hurt in yet another actioner — serving death as the main course — in which the fraught patriarch must protect an imperiled family member. Under the direction of Jaume Collet-Serra, whom last worked with Neeson on Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night is the pair’s third collaboration, which plomps the Irish actor back into the comfortable, yet worn-out slippers of his hard-as-nails action hero persona — whom audiences have all no doubt seen at some stage before — though now operating on the wrong side of the law.
Formerly known as The Gravedigger – A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014) anyone? – Neeson stars as Jimmy Conlon, a 55-year-old Brooklyn mobster, haunted by the felonious sins of his past; Jimmy has clearly seen better days, as lately the prolific hitman’s only solace can be found at the bottom of a whiskey glass. Making matters worse, Jimmy is still being tracked by police detective Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio), who’s been hot on Jimmy’s trail for the past thirty odd years. However, when Jimmy’s estranged son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), becomes a prime target — a limo driver who accidentally witnesses the murder of two Armenian gangsters after a deal goes sour — Jimmy must make a choice between the crime family he willingly chose — led by longtime best friend, former mob boss turned legitimate businessman, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) — and the real family he abandoned long ago.
After Jimmy gets tipped off, discovering that Shawn’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), had in fact committed the felony, Jimmy reaches his son, Mike, just in time to save his life, shooting Danny dead in the process. Justifiable homicide, one might assume; but Shawn certainly doesn’t see it that way. Even though both Shawn and Jimmy had strained relationships with their sons — Danny being careless and irresponsible, and Mike blaming his father for deserting his family — blood is thicker than water, as old friends swiftly become enemies. With Mike’s life now on the line, Jimmy’s only penance for his past mistakes may be to protect his son. Having nowhere safe to turn, Jimmy has just one night to figure out exactly where his loyalties lie, to see if he can finally make things right and turn his crippled life around.
What separates Run All Night from Neeson’s countless other revenge/ action flicks is that contained within the feature’s 114-minute run time, lies a decent synergy of elements, which usually makes these gangster-type film’s — pictures crammed with unlikeable, non-relatable players, normally designed to repulse — enjoyable and worthwhile, as there is an honest story to be told here, embedded with some universally identifiable themes and life lessons, plus quality performances to ‘sell’ these aspects of the narrative. Rather than simply going ‘straight for the jugular,’ Collet-Serra and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby, Out of the Furnace (2013), invest quite a bit of time constructing a credible character-driven narrative, as Run All Night doesn’t play out as cliché as one might expect. Collet-Serra wisely lets the polarizing dynamic between Jimmy and Shawn define the conflict that ensues — one father’s grief and consequent thirst for retribution, following the death of his son, to another father’s paternal instinct to safeguard his family by whatever means necessary — giving both characters and their longstanding-friendship-turned-brutal-rivalry intensity and nuance. Often pushing the limits of coherency, Collet-Serra carefully treads the feature’s established realist trimmings, without ever knocking the entire edifice down into a marsh of absurdity.
Fittingly cast as the friends-turned-rivals, Neeson and Harris manage to find their characters’ empathetic core, and this should come as no surprise, considering both are reputable, accomplished actors. Neeson’s Jimmy Conlon plays out much like an amalgamation of previous characters, from his Non-Stop persona to Taken’s Bryan Mills, with abilities more ordinary than the latter, and being significantly more vulnerable than the former. Director Collet-Serra understands Neeson’s ‘particular set of skills’ in playing the fallible hero, and gives his lead enough space and scope to explore the character’s vulnerabilities and motivations, even bringing in an unbilled, and unrecognizable Nick Nolte, The Thin Red Line (1998) as Jimmy’s unkept brother — who sports a ludicrously preposterous Hemingway beard — to add additional weight to proceedings. While Neeson is undeniably going-through-the-motions here — surely by now, he’s able to play these vigilante-style individuals in his sleep — he actually delivers a performance worthy of note, effortlessly shifting from Jimmy’s softer side, to his tougher qualities, effectively providing the character with the precise amount of expressive depth. Playing Jimmy’s employer and life-long companion, Shawn Maguire, Ed Harris, The Rock (1996), fares up just as well as Neeson, instilling the ideal amount of emotional intensity to his weighty role.
Sharing the screen with Neeson and Harris are Joel Kinnaman, RoboCop (2014), as Jimmy’s son Mike, and rapper-turned-actor, Common, Selma (2014), playing the lethal assassin Andrew Price. When it comes to these co-stars however, Kinnaman doesn’t get quiet enough scenes with Neeson for their father-son relationship to fully develop into something truly compelling, but the two do have a good rapport, implanting the action with that extra sentimental beat, while Common’s portrayal of Dr. Price is forgetful and formulaic, and though it’s hinted that Jimmy and Price share a joint ‘history,’ nothing is ever made clear, with the ‘hired gun’ not given much to do other than ‘shoot-to-kill.’ It’s depressing to note that in this testosterone fueled vehicle, the few female players spend the duration of the feature fretting silently in the background, hiding behind rocks and furniture, reduced to ‘damsels in distress’ or throwaway characters; slightly substandard in today’s contemporary cinema don’t you think?
Truth-be-told, Run All Night is far from a straight out action — maintaining a fairly conservative body count — being primarily a drama with action interspersed throughout. Though, when the action does show up, Collet-Serra doesn’t disappoint. Reining in the often-distracting hand-held shots, Collet-Serra fashions a couple of mildly impressive sequences, making full use of the flick’s New York locale. A thrilling police-car chase through the streets of Brooklyn is a clear standout, while a burning-up high-rise apartment complex provides a tense backdrop for a vicious quarrel between adversaries Jimmy and Dr. Price. Audiences are also treated to the iconic Madison Square Garden, which supplies the setting for a daring escape, following a Rangers/ Devils game, and heightens the Big Apple atmosphere while keeping the gritty feel of several of the film’s earlier scenes.
It is certainly tempting to consider Run All Night as just another attempt to cash in on Neeson’s newfound ‘action man’ status, but the picture does manage to distinguish itself with some well-filmed set pieces to satisfy the adrenaline-hungry crowd, while staying grounded with enough characterization, conflict and fine acting for its audience to be rooted with the characters on screen. Possibly Neeson’s best collaboration with Collet-Serra to date, who seems genuinely interested at making a movie tailored to the Neeson’s strengths rather than simply making the most out of a fad. Coming across as somewhat mechanical, Run All Night will most likely be easily forgotten — truthfully, nothing in this film stands out as explicitly unique, with events slipping into all too familiar territory — nevertheless, it’s still a genuinely solid slab of macho entertainment, capable of washing away the bitter taste of the over-the-hill Taken franchise, playing up the strengths of its gifted leads, Neeson and Harris.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner
Run All Night is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia