WRITTEN REVIEW – Run All Night (2015)
Run All Night
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: Brad Ingelsby
Starring: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Common & Bruce McGill
Music: Junkie XL
Release Date: March 13th 2015
While Liam Neeson has made a name for himself as an action star in recent years thanks to the ‘Taken‘ franchise (which started great and then wound up circling the drain of terrible-ness), some of the more prolific projects to come off the back of that are his recent collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra. The spanish director may have entered the directing scene with the terrible remake ‘House of Wax‘, it was actually the 2011 psychological thriller ‘Unknown‘ that gave him some credibility. ‘Unknown‘ starred Liam Neeson in ‘Taken‘-mode and since it was a success at the box-office, it spawned a spiritual successor in 2014 with ‘Non-Stop‘, once again starring Neeson.
What’s interesting though is that these Collet-Serra and Neeson collaborations have actually been pretty good so far and while they’re not on-par with the first ‘Taken‘, with ‘Run All Night‘ completing the unofficial Jaume/Liam trilogy we actually have a trilogy of Liam Neeson action films that are (by law of averages) better than the ‘Taken‘-trilogy. Because ‘Run All Night‘ is not only the better than ‘Unknown‘ and ‘Non-Stop‘, but it’s actually the best Neeson action movie since the ‘The A-Team‘.Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) is a washed up, drunken, deadbeat dad whose son, Mike (Kinnaman), wants nothing to do with him. However, after Mike witnesses a murder committed by the son of Jimmy’s best friend Shawn Maguire (Harris), Jimmy kills him before his own son can be killed. Shawn, a businessman with connections to local law enforcement, vows to take revenge on Jimmy and Mike, but Jimmy has a plan to save his son and clear their names. All they have to do is survive the night in New York with the entire NYPD closing in on the Conlon family, including Mike’s innocent wife and children.
‘Run All Night‘, just like ‘Non-Stop‘ has been marketed as a bad-ass Liam Neeson action film but that’s not entirely the case here. In fact, also like ‘Non-Stop‘, ‘Run All Night‘ has Neeson in a very unglamourous leading role. Jimmy Conlon is not a “father-knows-best” like Bryan Mills from ‘Taken‘, rather he’s a weary, haggard and broken man who is haunted by those he has been forced to kill in the past. It’s indicative of Liam Neeson’s action-movie persona of late that ‘Non-Stop‘ can be marketed the same way as ‘Run All Night‘ and pull the same twist on the formula, but it’s still considered a surprise when you see the finished movie.
Incidentally, early on in ‘Run All Night‘, Liam Neeson has to dress up as Santa Claus to entertain kids at a party where he does a riff on ‘Bad Santa‘. Instant 5-star movie right there.
The best thing going for ‘Run All Night‘ is the emotional connection you have to the chief cast members. No, it’s not exactly ‘Schindler’s List‘ in terms of emotional engagement, but it’s a testament to the great cast assembled for ‘Run All Night‘ that despite only just meeting these characters you still get a sense of a long-lasting bond or a history between them all. Jimmy Conlon and Shawn Maguire do feel like best friends who have shared many experiences with each other and the anti-chemistry between Jimmy and his son Mike is palpable. Mike is angry at his father for what he’s done in the past and he’s very sympathetic in that regard. But Jimmy is a man filled with regrets and despite not being arrested for the lives he’s taken, he is still paying for every person he’s killed.
Even the subtle touches in the script give an impression of history for these characters. Jimmy is experienced in the scenarios that he has to help his son Mike through and this is demonstrated by moments such as him immediately firing his gun in the air to disperse a crowd after getting out of a car, or suggesting places to lay low from the NYPD. It may not seem like much, but for grounded action-movies it’s quite rare to find these details that help to elevate a movie.
The movie is 114 minutes long, but most of that is made up of extended dialogue sequences between characters and the script just sizzles with tension. One of the best scenes of the movie has acting juggernauts Liam Neeson and Ed Harris go head-to-head in a restaurant. The two have electric chemistry and there’s genuine tension as Ed Harris refuses to back down and you’re on the edge of your seat just waiting for him to snap. But what holds ‘Run All Night‘ together is that it’s not a black-and-white dynamic. Yes, the main characters are Jimmy and Mike but Shawn’s son has just been killed by his best friend so his need for revenge, while not the best course of action, makes complete sense. Especially when you take into consideration the scene of Shawn hearing the news of his son’s fate for the first time and how his grieving wife reacts. Human moments like that propel ‘Run All Night‘ from standard action-movie fare to something genuinely exceptional in the genre.
‘Run All Night‘ does deliver in terms of action, but it’s parcelled out in bits and pieces to prevent the film from becoming too slow. Yes, the character dynamics were great but those who wanted to see a ‘Taken‘-style movie expect some fist fights or gun-battles and we do get those. A chase scene early on between Mike and Shawn’s son Danny underwhelms, but after that bump in the road the film presents some great car chases with brilliant practical stunts (a cop car flipping through a convenience store window being the highlight) as well as some brutal fistfights that match ‘Taken‘ in terms of punishment. But Ed Harris is 64 years old? Who can be the one-on-one threat that can match Liam Neeson?
Shawn Maguire hires a hitman named Mr. Price to take down Jimmy and Mike (with instructions to kill Mike first) and Mr. Price is played by hip-hop artist Common who won an Academy Award last year for the ‘Selma‘ song “Glory” along with John Legend (yes, in a movie with Academy Award nominated heavy-weights like Liam Neeson and Ed Harris, Common is the ONLY Oscar-Winner) and Common…is REALLY good here. He’s a man of few words, but he’s like an African-American version of the T-1000 from ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day‘. When he shows up in the movie, he looks very unassuming. He’s able to use an understated demeanour in order to act natural in front of police officers, but once he engages a target he is relentless. He even shows echoes of Schwarzenegger’s T-101 from ‘The Terminator‘ as he’s equipped with a handgun with a laser-sight and one fight sequence even has half of Mr. Price’s face get burned off which is a staple of the ‘Terminator‘ franchise. He’s a great screen presence and works as a plot-device to disrupt Jimmy and Mike’s plans to prevent the audience from getting too complacent.
Something tells me that Common’s agent will be getting a call soon from Paramount Pictures asking him to be the next Terminator antagonist.
The few things holding ‘Run All Night‘ back are some minor structural problems, particularly with the first act. The movie is nearly 2 hours and it feels a bit too long for this type of movie and the set-up takes a while to get to. The first act could have used a bit of tightening up which could have alleviated this. The movie also opens with a wounded Liam Neeson in the middle of a forest talking about his regrets before flashing back to 16 hours earlier but, when all is said and done, the movie really didn’t need that framing device other than to provide a cold-open that (let’s be frank, here) does nothing for the story other than remove the tension of whether or not Jimmy survives up until that point in the story later on. Not to mention the separation of the father and son in the 3rd act which, while very clichéd, I could have forgiven if it wasn’t for the fact that it ultimately adds up to nothing, save for a random single-scene cameo from another grizzled actor.
‘Run All Night‘ is a slick and efficiently made movie. It’s been interesting seeing director Jaume Collet-Serra develop his own style through these Neeson action movies with an emphasis on long, elegant shots that weave in and out of buildings or having an emphasis on the props or environment around the characters. There are also some camera-hopping transitions that are actually very well done despite the modest budget. The lighting is terrific, the action sound effects are top-of-the-class and the city of New York at night-time is such a brilliant sight and instantly livens up the surroundings of a standard action movie. Although there was one piece of distracting product placement in the movie where Jimmy is in Time’s Square making his way to a hockey stadium and passes a large poster of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ that’s in the background. It’s not drawn attention to (this isn’t a Sony movie, of course) but it did take me out of the movie and reminded me of how much I’m looking forward to THAT Warner Bros. movie as opposed to how much I was enjoying THIS Warner Bros. movie.
Junkie XL’s music is also good, kicking in at the right moments and helping to build tension or carry emotional moments. Junkie XL is one of the most under-appreciated composers right now, as he often does remix work or additional music for movies and video games, but anything he’s attached to automatically gives it credibility in my eyes. While ‘Run All Night‘ probably wouldn’t make my Top 10 for his work, it’s still a good, suitable score.
‘Run All Night‘ is not a ground-breaking or “must-see” action movie, but it’s a damn good one with just the right level of emotional investment and thrills. It’s emphasis on strong-actors portraying standard characters actually works in the movie’s favour to create a very polished thriller in the vein of ‘Collateral‘ or ‘Nightcrawler‘. The cast carry the movie, Common is a surprisingly credible and effective threat and Jaume Collet-Serra has clearly grown as a director since ‘Unknown‘ with each of his films getting better and better. The end result is a movie that should satisfy action fans as well as Liam Neeson fans with ‘Run All Night‘ being a satisfying ending to the Liam Neeson non-‘Taken‘ trilogy – a trilogy that’s better overall than the ACTUAL ‘Taken‘-trilogy, despite not sharing the same box-office success, which is very unfortunate.
I give ‘Run All Night‘ 4 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 21st Mar 15