Neeson spills blood yet again, and it's not half bad.
Run All Night
A novel idea seven years ago, the “old-guy action star” gimmick is finally starting to, well, grow old. Liam Neeson and Taken opened the door for many a grizzled, tough-guy screen vet to walk through and inject their career with a nasty shot of testosterone. Sylvester Stallone gathered a gaggle of his veiny, thick-necked buddies to cash in on the trend with the Expendables series, and Taken director is teaming up with a bulked-up Sean Penn in the impending action thriller The Gunman. The Expendables was a ton of stupid fun, but its subsequent sequels didn’t capture the same campy, gun-crazy indulgence. The “old-guy action star” sub-sub-genre is on its last legs, to the point where you can hear people groan when they walk by movie posters with Mr. Neeson on the cover, looking hard and brandishing a pistol. “Whatcha think this one’s gonna be about, bro?” Hardy-har-har!
The Taken series has followed the same downward trend in quality as Sly’s Expendables, but on the side Neeson’s been making another line of action movies, all directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Non-Stop and Unknown stuck firmly to convention, but actually weren’t half bad; the action was well-shot, the dialogue was slightly silly in a good way, and the acting was super solid (one can never accuse Neeson of phoning it in — he’s a consummate pro). Now, the duo are back with Run All Night, another clichéd shoot-‘em-up flavored this time by themes of revenge and old-school New Yawk masculinity. It’s about on par with the pair’s previous collaborations, which isn’t a bad thing; despite the triteness of it all, the quality of work by all parties elevates the film well above the schlocky action-movie turds cinephiles habitually avoid at the cinemas.
Pitted against each other in a bloody night-long war are Neeson’s Jimmy Conlin, a boozer ex-hitman, and his mob-boss childhood friend, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). When Shawn’s reckless, greedy son (Boyd Holbrook) tries to kill Jimmy’s estranged limo-driver son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), Jimmy’s forced to pull the trigger on his best friend’s boy. As a trade, Shawn sends out his goons (including Common, playing Price, a stealthy, dapper assassin) in full force to kill Mike, forcing Jimmy to protect his son through the night, evading the henchman, Price, and the police until he can figure out how to fix things. Mike, a father and husband himself, is far from compliant, however, as he’s carried around a deep resentment for his murderous dad since he abandoned the family years ago.
While on the run Jimmy paints the city streets with blood (cop blood, mob blood, his own blood) as he and Mike dart around the city. Several opportunities arise for Mike to spill some plasma of his own, but Jimmy insists he not pull the trigger. “You’ll be no better than me,” he warns his next of kin. The breakneck action sequences are well-edited and staged, though the best bits come when Collet-Serra slows things down and gets inventive, like when Jimmy infiltrates Shawn’s social club or when the old friends have a hide-and-seek shootout at a train yard. In these instances Jimmy uses creative thinking to eliminate the baddies as opposed to his quick trigger finger; it’s a nice change of pace.
What’s frustrating, though, is a pestering visual effect in which we zoom from a sky-high view of the city down to street level to meet back up with the characters. It’s jarring (the effect is wholly unconvincing), cheesy, and provides zero geographical context to the proceedings. What’s worse, it’s used again and again, as if it’s critical we know exactly where in NYC they are at every moment. I don’t get it.
The acting’s spot-on, though. Neeson plays “that guy” again — you know, the guy with the “particular set of skills” — but he still manages to make things relatively interesting. Add in Harris as his sparring partner and you’ve got a slobber-knocker on your hands; with ease, the pair make it believable that they hate and love each other to pieces at the same time. Nick Nolte makes a strange cameo as Jimmy’s brother, probably to up the gruff appeal another few notches (as if Neeson and Harris weren’t gruff enough). Kinnaman is decent, if a tad one-note, but almost stealing the show is Vincent D’Onofrio, playing an NYPD detective with his own agenda, obsessed with getting Jimmy to confess to the murders of his past victims.
When you’ve got a cast with this much on-screen mileage between them and a talented director with a confident style, it’s kind of a can’t-lose situation, though that’s not to say Run All Night is a big winner. Those with an affinity for explosions and violence and old-timers proving they can still be macho, there’s a whole lot to like here. I’m not sure how many more action romps Neeson’s got left in him (probably more than is reasonable), but if he keeps on truckin’ down the road of movie badass-dom, let’s hope he brings Collet-Serra along for the ride.