Another year, another Liam Neeson-starring action-thriller designed to cash in on the success of the Taken franchise. This one is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who at this point more or less specializes in making such films. First up was Unknown, an amnesia-fueled mystery that didn't have as much Hitchcockian tension as needed. Then there was the airplane-bound thriller Non-Stop, which suffered from the same lack of suspense but at least managed to give Neeson a fairly complex character. Now, we arrive at Run All Night, which is probably the best of the bunch by virtue of being the least convoluted (that isn't saying much, but still). You'll probably forget everything about it within a week, but it has some decent action sequences, a solid supporting cast and a few enjoyably growl-y speeches from its gruff leading man.
Neeson plays Jimmy “The Gravedigger” Conlon, a former Irish mob enforcer who has devolved into a pathetic drunk. He'd probably be dead by now if it weren't for the frequent support of his best friend (and former boss) Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris, The Rock), a powerful, well-respected organized crime figure who has more or less given his old pal a lifetime pass. “When we cross that line... wherever we're going, we'll go together,” Shawn often tells Jimmy. It's not much of a signature phrase, but it's a nice sentiment.
Jimmy and Shawn are both fathers, and in both cases, the apple has fallen pretty far from the tree. Jimmy's son Mike (Joel Kinnaman, Robocop) is an honest, law-abiding, hard-working family man who works long nights as a limo driver. Shawn's son Danny (Boyd Holbrook, A Walk Among the Tombstones) is a foolish young crook who is constantly making messes for his father to clean up. Both father-son relationships are in severe disrepair, but all of that ceases to matter when a situation arises that leads to Jimmy killing Danny in an attempt to prevent Danny from killing Mike. “You know how this has to end, right?” Shawn seethes. Jimmy does.
From there, Run All Night proceeds to live up to its title, as Jimmy and Mike flee for their lives while simultaneously attempting to repair their relationship, figure out a way to clear Mike's name (the police think he's responsible for Danny's death), bring down Shawn and maybe help a noble cop (Vincent D'Onofrio, Daredevil) solve every local mob-related crime of the past thirty years. While the film might have benefited from a more spare, stripped-down approach (more running and shooting, fewer family bonding detours), it's engaging and kinetic enough to distract you from the contrived bits of plotting and the unpersuasively weighty dialogue (“Just because I'm not behind bars doesn't mean I'm not paying for what I did”). Things get particularly tense once a mysterious hitman (played by Common, Selma) enters the picture and begins pursuing the Conlons with a vengeance.
Neeson's mournful performance is solid, of course, and he does everything within his power to bring a little emotional weight to the table. The film gives him an abundance of hard-boiled monologues to toss out, and while none of them are at the level of that snarled ultimatum from Taken, they're effectively-employed slices of world-weary grit. Harris is even better, delivering the film's most emotionally affecting scene as Shawn attempts to cope with the news of Danny's death. There's also a quick third-act appearance from Nick Nolte (Warrior), whose leathery face and rumbling, gravelly voice somehow grow more leathery and gravelly with each passing year.
Run All Night is fine for what it is, but it's hard to escape the feeling that Neeson has hit a dead end with this stuff. Too many of these movies have depended on Neeson's commanding presence to rescue a routine script. I enjoy watching the actor in this mode, but I hope he starts seeking out more projects – like Joe Carnahan's superb The Grey – that provide an interesting framework for his popular brand of soulful toughness.
Run All Night
Rating: ★★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Year: 2015