Run All Night marks a slight uptick in the stock of ‘Liam Neeson With a Gun’ action movies.
In Run All Night, Liam Neeson plays ex-hit man Jimmy Conlon, who spends his waning days under the wing of his (literal) partner in crime, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), getting drunk and trying to forget sins of the past. Things take a sharp turn when Jimmy’s estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) takes an ill-fated chauffeur gig – one that positions him as witness to a murder perpetrated by Danny (Boyd Holbrook), Shawn’s reckless and violent son.
When Danny comes looking to take Mike out of the picture, Jimmy is forced to do the unthinkable and kill his best friend’s only son. That decision puts Jimmy and Mike into the NYC streets on the run from Shawn’s gang – and soon, into the sights of methodical and ruthless contract killer, Andrew Price (Common).
The latest collaboration between Liam Neeson and his Unknown and Non-Stop director Jaume Collet-Serra, Run All Night is another B-movie entry in the “Liam Neeson With a Gun” film series. However, by ditching the high-concept, flimsy mystery premises of their previous films and instead providing old-school action/thriller gravitas, Serra and Neeson manage to deliver their best film yet – one that should more than suitably appease fans of the genre, and/or Neeson’s career as an action star.
With Run All Night, Serra tackles his most challenging stage yet – the urban jungle of NYC – but also scores his greatest achievement. While still earmarked by so many tropes of B-movie filmmaking (logical and spatial inconsistency, gimmicky framing effects, etc.), Serra and his crew nonetheless manage to execute one competent (at times exciting) action set piece after another. Granted, the narrative logic stringing the set pieces together (or in some cases, the logic of the sequence itself), may be riddled with holes, but that doesn’t stop each respective sequence from delivering the level of thrills and excitement people are paying to see. In other words: if you can check your brain and just jump in for the ride, Run All Night is a pretty satisfying action movie experience.
The script by Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace) similarly turns out to be something better than initially expected. Unlike the other entries in the “Liam Neeson with a Gun” series, Run All Night actually has a narrative core, character development, and themes that almost qualify as Shakespearian in their rumination on family, friendship, loyalty and tragedy. For the sake of entertainment, those “deeper” moments are also surrounded by the sort that push the boundary of believability to the brink, even for an action flick.
Although Serra and Ingelsby manage to turn New York City (and the surrounding area) into a uniquely interesting and fun action/thriller obstacle course, the usual logical snares trip up the works. (First and foremost, how X number of people can cause so much havoc, in so many hours, in the most heavily monitored city on earth.) But given what most viewers will expect going in, Run All Night will probably leave them pleasantly surprised by the depth and gravitas it does have, rather than disappointed in its flaws.
Of course, gravitas isn’t hard to bring with a cast this talented. The novelty of seeing veteran actors Liam Neeson and Ed Harris onscreen together for the first time is worthwhile in itself. The pair share mostly dramatic (rather than action) scenes, and the resulting moments (including a Heat-style restaurant convo) bring genuine theatrical weight that entirely lifts the film. Neeson is also still doing his action star thing, and still looking good doing it; Run All Night has some particularly brutal chase, fight and shootout scenes, all of which Neeson and Serra pull off smoothly, having so much experience under their collective belt.
The Killing and Robocop star Joel Kinnaman continues to be a standout, holding the screen against Neeson well, and even carrying the scenes between himself and Genesis Rodriguez (Identity Thief), who plays his wife Gabriela, an entirely marginalized character that (with her two onscreen daughters) is used as narrative bait for the chase. Recent Oscar-winning actor/musician Common actually does get an interesting character to play, and does so with standout success. Price similarly functions as a narrative device (a Terminator-esque threat meant to keep Neeson and Kinnaman running), but even in a mostly wordless performance, Common manages to make the hitman an interesting and frightening figure. He also holds his own well as an imposing action man counterpoint to Neeson, with some of the film’s best fight/chase scenes.
Run All Night manages to have a bench that runs so deep with talent that you even have bit characters being fleshed out and given real weight, thanks to accomplished character actors like Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil), Bruce McGill (Rizzoli & Isles), Boyd Holbrook (A Walk Among the Tombstones), and Patricia Kalember (Law & Order: SVU). Strong links all across the chain.
In the end, Run All Night marks a slight uptick in the stock of ‘Liam Neeson With a Gun’ action movies. Thanks to the combination of Serra and Neeson’s collaborative experience, the surprisingly strong cast, and yet another better-than-average hard-boiled script from Brad Ingelsby, the thrills of this B-movie actioner manage to outweigh the flaws. If you’ve been waiting to see Neeson back on some better game, forget Taken 3 and take the Run instead.
Run All Night is now playing in theaters. It is 114 minutes long and is Rated R for strong violence, language including sexual references, and some drug use.
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