Review: Run All Night (2015)

Liam Neeson’s action renaissance, comprised of winter releases that capitalize on the charm of watching the soft-spoken Irishman dispatch hordes of enemies, can be split into two groups: silly B-movie action romps like EuropaCorp’s Taken series and contemplative genre pictures like Joe Carnahan’s The Grey and Scott Frank’s A Walk Among the Tombstones. Jaume Collet-Serra’s Run All Night splits the difference between these two threads of Liam Neeson films, combining the hyperbolic action of the one with the thoughtfulness of the other. In doing so, it’s mostly successful, giving us the B-movie theatrics that audiences have come to expect from a late-winter Liam Neeson joint, but adding a touch of poignancy to the proceedings that elevate the film beyond disposable entertainment. Sadly, there’s none of the formal inventiveness here that was on display in Collet-Serra and Neeson’s last collaboration, Non-Stop, but the film’s generic execution is still worlds better than the incoherence of the last two Taken films.

In Run All Night Liam Neeson stars as the alcoholic hitman, Jimmy Conlon, a man well past his prime, who sits drunkenly around bars, riding on his past reputation as the “Gravedigger” who put 17 men in the ground, and leaning on the affection of his mob boss, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). He’s estranged from his son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman), who drives limos to support his family, and his wife is long dead. All Jimmy has is Shawn, and Shawn only keeps Jimmy around because of his affection for their growing up together.

Jimmy’s pathetic life is complicated when Michael witnesses Shawn’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), killing two Albanian gangsters he was driving around. Danny goes to kill Michael at his home, Jimmy gets word, and he shows up just in time to kill Danny and save his son’s life. Of course, this turns Shawn’s sights onto Jimmy, who makes it his goal in life to kill Michael and make Jimmy feel the pain he does. Only one of these men is going to make it out of the night alive (hence the title), as all manner of cops and criminals are after Jimmy and Michael. This retinue of adversaries includes Vincent D’Onofrio’s detective who has a vendetta to settle with Jimmy, and Common’s Terminator-like hitman, Mr. Price, who wears a nightvision eyepiece that glows green, resembling the Terminator’s red robotic eye.

Run All Night progresses much like you’d think it would, with Jimmy helping Michael to escape crooked cops and the old gangsters he used to hang with. Michael slowly warms to his absentee father, realizing that Jimmy’s his best chance of staying alive, even as he refuses to forgive him for a lifetime of bad decisions. Nothing in the plot surprises you, and Collet-Serra plays it fairly straight. Run All Night is unapologetically a B-movie, moving from one action set piece to another, with small breaks allowing the characters to reflect on their predicament and the kind of tough-guy philosophies these sorts of movies revel in.

Luckily, it’s in these small breaks that the film finds some measure of grace. The characters are all B-movie action flick types—the alcoholic hitman who regrets his bad decisions, the fearsome mob boss with a genuine love of family, the bitter son who distrusts his father to the point of self-sabotage—but the actors play them with selfless abandon. Neeson and Harris in particular enliven the material. Collet-Serra recognizes their strong performances and captures small moments of poignancy amid the tough-guy dramatics. One particular wide shot holds a lot of power, pulling back as Harris’s Shawn Maguire tells his wife that their son is dead, showing her slapping him in the face twice until she collapses in his arms and he barely manages to stay standing himself. Shawn Maguire might be a stereotypical villain, but Harris plays him with real emotion and Collet-Serra is savvy enough to cater to the performance. It’s too bad the film has no time for women as there are only a few female characters who are given nothing to do. This is very much a movie about fathers and sons, old friends, and the bonds between bad men. At least it treats the characters it does explore with sympathy.

As for the action scenes, Collet-Serra favours a close-up heavy, handheld camera, which focuses on gun-barrels and broken faces. There’s one fight scene between Common and Neeson in a burning apartment that reminded me of the climax of Collet-Serra’s mistaken identity thriller Unknown, suddenly imbuing its characters with superpowers for the sake of a good brawl. There’s nothing as formally daring here as the climactic gunfight in A Walk Among the Tombstones, but it’s still competently done, if a little frenetic.

Run All Night is an admirable B-movie. It brings nothing new to the genre, but it plays its conventions with honesty and conviction. It even finds some moments of beauty amid its generic paces. That and the ongoing pleasure of watching Liam Neeson kick ass are enough to recommend it to more than just the Neeson purist.

6 out of 10

Run All Night (2015, USA)

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; written by Brad Ingelsby; starring Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Vincent D’Onofrio, Boyd Holbrook, Bruce McGill, Génesis Rodriguez, Holt McCallany, Malcolm Goodwin, with Common and Ed Harris.