Hey look, it’s another Liam Neeson action movie, didn’t Taken 3 just come out a few weeks back? Yes, Run All Night is the third straight collaboration between Neeson and Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra after Unknown and Non-Stop. It looks to be a fairly standard action role for Neeson, but one of the more intriguing credits listed is that it’s written by Brad Ingelsby, whose previous film was the impressive, bleak drama Out of the Furnace. His name suggested that this might be a movie more interested in things like characters and plot than punching and shooting, and for the first half, this is actually pretty much the case. Run All Night is just as much a crime drama as it is an action thriller. It’s quite amusing really how nowadays even when Neeson takes on a more dramatic role it gets marketed as another action movie, as happened with last years’ A Walk among the Tombstones.
His role here is also not just a clone of Taken’s Brian Mills, who’s a fairly straightforward action movie lead. He plays Jimmy Conlon, a former enforcer with the Irish mob in New York. He’s now hit hard times and can’t even afford to pay his heating bill, while continually haunted by the killings he committed in his younger days. He’s a much bigger swing into antihero territory than we’ve seen from Neeson lately, and it pays off. If Taken 4 does eventually appear, we’re not likely to see Brian Mills forced into being Santa for a children’s party, then drunkenly failing to convince there.
Though out of the game, he’s still connected to the mob through his lifelong friendship with Shawn Maguire (a dependable Ed Harris), who’s stuck with it and become a rich and powerful crime boss. The film puts quite a lot of work into its dramatic moments that’s atypical of an action film, and some of it is very successful. There’s a scene when Jimmy runs into a Detective (Vincent D’Onofrio) who’s been on his case for years that’s quite an exemplary piece of character establishment. Through one brief exchange we learn a great deal of whom these men are now and their history. If anything, Collet-Serra appears to be trying to flash the film up a bit by employing brash, CGI-assisted edits that sweep from location to location throughout the city. Such techniques are fun but completely unnecessary.
The event that triggers Run All Night’s primary plot in fact does not involve Jimmy and Shawn but their two adult sons. Jimmy’s son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) hasn’t seen his father in years and works as a limo driver, while Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is a hot-headed gangster himself, eager to please his father. Kinnaman, the completely forgettable lead from the RoboCop remake, manages to make more of an impression here, even if his character is rather one-note. Holbrook (who was also in A Walk among the Tombstones) succeeds in making Danny an instantly detestable man.
The set-up is the kind that when explained sounds painfully contrived, but the film handles the events and pacing well enough that it never feels so when watching it. On a job one night Mike witnesses Danny commit a murder. Knowing who he is, Danny immediately tracks him down with the intention of killing him, but Jimmy gets there first and shoots Danny. Now, this estranged father and son must join together to evade Shawn, who desires to avenge his son.
Even with this premise, Run All Night still wishes to not just be one big chase movie. There are scenes during their pursuit when Jimmy and Mike separate and Jimmy goes to have a manly talk with Shawn in a restaurant that doesn’t lead to any kind of fight. The action scenes that there are a more of a mixed bag, there’s an effective chase/fight through a subway station around the mid-point, but later set-pieces feel more generic. The final show-down, an unremarkable shoot out is particularly disappointing. Collet-Serra’s desire to have it both ways’ biggest misstep is in introducing a hitman called Mr. Price, played by rapper Common. He’s an unstoppable killing machine who uses a laser-sighted gun that often makes him look like something out of a sci-fi movie. He’s a very silly character completely out of place with the friendship and family drama at the heart of the film.
Ultimately Run All Night’s attempts to be both don’t result in it being a truly great action movie or crime drama, but it’s a satisfying film and one of the better of Neeson’s recent action output. It’s also commendably not been subject to a PG-13 neutering, allowing it to explore some darker territory that it could perhaps have done with a little more of. Its efforts to add more in terms of character and plot aren’t in vain though, and put it a notch or two higher than just another Taken knock-off, which is definitely isn’t.