Liam Neeson is really beginning to show his age. Sure it was pretty cool to see the veteran actor being a total badass in the original Taken, but ever since that landmark only a small handful of his follow-up action films have been even remotely watchable (the only one I can think of off the top of my head is Non-Stop in my opinion). So what does a guy do when performing complex fight scenes and endless endurance tests begin to slip from his grasp? He transitions into the thriller genre where such tasks aren’t required.
Run All Night features Liam Neeson playing Jimmy Conlan, a fall down drunk hitman for the Irish mob who is left no choice but to kill his boss’s (Ed Harris) spoiled son (Boyd Holbrook) to save the life of his own (Joel Kinnaman). Now on the run from not only vengeance hungry gangsters, but also the police that assume he and his son are on a crime spree, he must take a stand against those he once called his closest friends.
Run All Night does nothing to re-invent the wheel. I just wanted to get that out there at the start. It is as cliché and predictable as these movies come. There’s the prerequisite car chase, shootouts, a quietly angry dinner scene where the villain lays out his nefarious plan for revenge, the hero getting his shit together and lots and lots of forgiveness. Whether or not these tropes come off as hokey or not depends on who’s directing the film. Fortunately Jaume Collet-Serra was the right man for the job. He’s a veteran of a few Neeson flicks (Non-Stop, Unknown) and apparently has a good bead on how to get the most out of his leading man. He also has a keen eye for action as well as when to milk the performances for all they’re worth. His visual style is pretty rad as well. I especially liked the slow motion pseudo-bullet time effect used during the opening moments of the film as well as his Google Maps style transitions. He’s come a long way since Orphan.
But the success of this movie rests on the performances, and thankfully this movie is filled with some fantastic work from the leads. Neeson excels at playing the menacing killer in the Taken films, but here he’s a broken man that is filled with regret and loneliness. He combats it with alcohol and it has cost him his family and the respect of his friends. Watching him get his life back together, accepting the fact that he was not a paragon of virtue in his younger days and trying his hardest to honestly re-connect with his son while bullets fly overhead pushes this beyond being just a generic thriller in my book. Rising star Joel Kinnaman (Robocop) is excellent as Neeson’s son. His performance is extremely naturalistic and believable; I actually felt the hate he had for his father based on his facial expressions alone. He’s no slouch when it comes to both the drama and action beats, which is why I feel he’s going to be a great leading man in the future. Veteran Ed Harris (Pollock, Appaloosa, Apollo 13) pulls out all the stops as Shawn Maguire, the head of the mobsters. Lately I’ve felt that he’s been going the way of Sir Ben Kingsley by taking on any old role that happens his way and muddling through to get a paycheck. This is the first time in a long while where the Ed Harris I remember from The Abyss came back in full force. He’s a slow burn hurricane of anger and resentment and his commitment to the part raised the film up another notch. I’m not a fan of (recent Oscar winner) Common as an actor, but here he is basically a mute assassin so I didn’t mind him so much. Usually I find him as irritating as RZA when he tries to act.
Sure the film has some slower bits that drag events out a tad as well as a couple of overly melodramatic moments that irked me. It’s nothing major, just slight annoyances. I can’t complain too much because as far as I’m concerned this is the best Liam Neeson movie since the original Taken. The script by Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace) is tight, the cinematography by Martin Ruhe is at times phenomenal and at others very minimalist and the score by Junkie XL is pretty decent.
Run All Night is a very entertaining and somewhat moving film that gives Liam Neeson his most substantial role in years (I really liked the redemption angle). The supporting cast is tops and its a very well made action thriller that exceeded any expectations I may have had when I walked in the theater. I was expecting to be bored, but I was fully invested in it from frame one. That’s more than I can say for the last few Neeson flicks.
4 out of 5