Starring: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Common, Ed Harris, Vincent D'Onofrio, Genesis Rodriguez, Bruce McGill, Boyd Holbrook
Directed by: Jaume Collet - Serra
"Run All Night" is Star Liam Neeson and Director Jaume Collet - Serra's third collaboration in 4 years. They are by no means the next Scorsese - DeNiro of acting-directing teams but you got to hand it to them, they know how to please their audiences. Their past three movies have been Beginning of the year dumped action-thrillers that are long forgotten by the year's end but provide temporary thrills and usually your best bet for a 80's-90's star vehicle action film that is high-concept, low on brains, and a decent time killer. Yes, they make films that you'll eventually kill a Sunday afternoon on cable with. I guess you can't fault them for striking gold everytime but I don't know how much more of Liam Neeson being an alcoholic grump who makes a last ditch effort to save the day I can take.
Run All Night is easily the best of the Collet - Serra/Neeson teamups. Their first film was 2011's Unknown, which I actually enjoyed, but it was the wrong movie, at the wrong time. Neeson was hot off his Taken success and people want more of the karate chop action they got from that film and what they got instead was a Man with Amnesia thriller. Next was last year's Non-Stop which was a decline in quality but had an intriguing setup that felt like a modern update of Agatha Christie's Death in the Clouds but with the most preposterous villain motivation in recent memory. Run All Night, finally does what the two should have done in the first place, which is given us the Neeson we love: Ass-kicking Dad Neeson and finally an R-Rating.
Run All Night follows Neeson as a booze-soaked, ex-Hitman named Jimmy Conlon. His best days are behind him and now he drowns his sorrows in a bottle to wash away the memories of his past that still haunt him. His boss is Shawn Maguire, a big-time Irish Mob Boss played by Ed Harris. The two are long time best friends and are both realizing their place in the world with the changing economy. Their glory days of huge profits from cocaine are long past. They are both changed men and one thing they still have in common is their sons. Neeson's estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) is an ex-boxer turned limo driver who does his best to be a family man, good husband, and pretend his dad doesn't exist. While Harris' son (Boyd Holbrook) is looking to follow in the family business and is upset when he brings a lucrative drug trafficking opportunity to his father and is turned down. I am making the plot sound more complicated than it is because what it comes down to is a traditional action movie sub-genre of two characters surviving the night.
There are numerous examples in the genre (Running Scared, Midnight Run, Sleepless Night), and judging by those examples it's no surprise to see how Run All Night got it's title. Once Ed Harris' son is killed by Neeson to save his own son, he has to survive the night with his troubled kin from Mob goons, a Hitman played by rapper Common, and corrupt cops. If you are familiar with the sub genre of films I mentioned then plot won't be of much surprise to you. The movie has a thin dramatic father-son arc that is more focused on getting to each new unique action scene location. On the positive side, the locations are what breathe the most life into this film. The film takes place in New York and many of the locations in the film are dark, dirty, and dimly lit, which give the film an authentic quality and elevate the action scenes from big budget fair and the mediocre action sequences from his previous films. Fight scenes in a gross New York subway bathroom, a chase/fight scene in a run-down apartment complex, and a shootout in an Irish pub are especially memorable but director Collet-Serra embellishes a little too much in making the action exciting when it would be fine on its own without all the shaky-cam and fast edits. The director is no Olivier Megaton but the film's action suffers from the sloppy fast paced editing and shaky cam instead of a coherent scene. Even an ending scene, beautifully shot in a foggy forest, which is annoyingly telegraphed by the opening scene/voiceover drags out the last stand to an almost comically absurd level, robbing it of some its impact. The film also decides to make it's gritty narrative with a ridiculous VFX to get us from location from location that is similar to when you select location to location in a video game in a whoosh-ing helicopter effect.
The biggest downfall of Run All Night is the main relationship between Neeson and Kinnaman. Kinnaman once again sleepwalks his way through a performance producing a character so bland, so cardboard, you could care less about his survival. You might remember Joel Kinnaman from not only the recent Robocop remake but also a similarly-themed Father-son action picture in the abysmal "A Good Day to Die Hard." Die Hard 5 also featured a similar gruff-old badass who tracked down his estranged son and then has to go on the run and protect him from a group of bad guys who want them dead. At least Run All Night keeps the action more grounded than Die Hard but Kinnaman hasn't become anymore enduring. What really works is the Harris-Neeson relationship and it has a better arc than the film deserves. The previews make it seem like Harris is your traditional ruthless Mob Boss but he is actually more sensitive and realistic than your average action film. The Neeson-Harris relationship is what works best for the film and it is a shame that the film has to rely on the weak father-son relationship because Harris and Neeson playing off each other and their final standoff could have carried more emotional weight if it was front and center.
No, Neeson still hasn't found the movie that captures the lighting-in-a-bottle success of his performance in the original Taken but Run All Night is definitely a step in the right direction. It is just a shame that a gritty, crime, revenge action thriller about hitmen and mob bosses living in a bygone era is embellished to be more of a stylish action piece, including a pretty outlandish car chase. Last year's John Wick was so successful because the plot was simple, the story had a simple arc, and the action had a space and coherence to it, that you knew exactly what was going on between the characters and the environment they are in. Not saying that has to be every action movie but it does an action film work. Neeson has the badass Dad seeking redemption character down to a tee and shows no signs of slowing down, but that doesn't mean the camera and editor have to constantly be keeping up with him.