Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Stars: Beau Knapp, Boyd Holbrook, Bruce McGill, Common, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Ed Harris, Genesis Rodriguez, James Martinez, Joel Kinnaman, Liam Neeson, Lois Smith,Vincent D’Onofrio
Released: 13th March 2015 (UK)
Run All Night is one of those fractured tales. The ones where each individual element is suspect to have greater implications than we might recognize upon introduction. The ones where we know how things must go and yet it is still able to somehow deviate from expectations allowing for the core proceedings of the familiar story to feel fresh. In essence, Run All Night feels much like a perfect storm of ideas and contributions from parties that have a similar goal in mind while each bringing something unique to the table. Obviously the biggest of these contributing factors is the presence of star Liam Neeson. Neeson has made a habit of annually presenting us with a run of the mill action flick that revels in B-movie territory and can be rather hit or miss, but most of the time are entertaining enough. I despise the Taken sequels yet have enjoyed his collaborations with Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop) as well as his excursions with Joe Carnahan (The Grey) and Scott Frank (A Walk Among the Tombstones), respectively. And while Neeson may still do his best work when he shows how eclectic he can be (The LEGO Movie) I always look forward to what his collaborations with Collet-Serra have to offer. Compared to their previous effortsRun All Night is much less mainstream and more in the vein of a different era. Whereas Unknown and Non-Stop were both polished and perfected to squarely fit into a genre Run All Night is dirty and grimy and while it fits into a certain type of film, it doesn’t necessarily adhere to any one set of expectations. Expectations are key with this type of film though and I realize that. Call it what you will, whether it be that we have tapered expectations for these Liam Neeson actioners now or that this is a case of the film being so much better than the initial black sheep facade it was presented to us with that I’m over-compensating; either way, I really enjoyed myself as I sat and witnessed Neeson get more even than he’s ever gotten before and might even call the film pretty great if it holds up under future viewings (which will definitely happen).
We first meet the latest of Neeson’s action man incarnations, Brooklyn hitman Jimmy Conlon, as he wastes away in local bars. The guy has clearly been through the ringer and as much as he is physically and seemingly mentally punishing himself it is clear that there is a lot to this guy we’ve yet to unravel. He bums money off local gangster Danny (Boyd Holbrook) so he might repair his heater despite once upon a time being best friends with Danny’s father, Sean Maguire (Ed Harris). Sean played the game right and has built himself an empire over which he still reigns today. It seems Jimmy was the guy who did much of Sean’s dirty work for him though and so why he hasn’t been included in the comfortable, cushioned life that Sean is enjoying in his third act is something of a mystery. Like Sean, Jimmy also has a son, but unlike Danny, Jimmy’s son Michael (Joel Kinnaman) went straight and never took up the habits of his old man. Currently working as a limo driver to support his wife, Gabriela (Genesis Rodriguez), and their two daughters Michael accidentally stumbles into his fathers old life by witnessing Danny kill a few would-be clients of his fathers. This sets a whole mess of circumstances and consequences into motion; many based on pride, others based on security and some just for personal revenge, but the main ideas of redemption and mortality are brought to the forefront as Michael is forced to team-up with his absent father and make it through a single night. Whether it be corrupt cops, contract killers in the form of Common or the entire mob itself Run All Night brings several elements into the fold, but never feels overstuffed or spread to thin and actually is all the more dramatic and exciting for it as each scene builds its own tension to a boiling point and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace) does a fantastic job of layering in character details.
There is much to respect when it comes to Run All Night which first and foremost presents us with the age old idea that there will always come a time when all that is corrupt must be ironed out even though crookedness will inevitably sneak back in. With this sense of ideals we come to appreciate the credence that Michael is a good man with a strong work ethic and good intentions while having been nurtured to see things in a much bleaker sense. We come to see Jimmy as what was once believed to be a bad guy, a man of wrongdoings and unspeakable crimes that has caused one NYPD detective (Vincent D’Onofrio) to make catching him his life mission. And yet, as we come to know Jimmy we don’t see him as this antagonist or enemy to Michael (who is clearly the real hero), but rather a man who was forced into servitude that is paying for his sins with regret. A man who looks at this night the film documents as not only a last hope to redeem himself, but something of a gift and it’s through Neeson’s ability as a great actor that he brings such dignity to this guy and, as a result, makes the film more substantial than it probably had any right to be. Sure, there are times in the film where it does so much character diving that one may question how much Jimmy could actually squeeze into the “one night” premise the film hinges on for its hook, but such is easily forgiven as it peels back the layers of not only Jimmy, but Michael all the more. While I’ve only seen a few episodes of The Killing Joel Kinnaman continues to prove his worth and up his notoriety by delivering this jaded and hardened persona that has a heart of gold buried beneath it. Here, bringing that ability to Michael was essential as we have to buy into the fact that this guy is a family man, but can also hold his own with his hitman father and that is never an issue. The same can be said for the rest of the cast as it is beyond solid. Harris is doing some of his best supporting work that he has come to regularly sign-up for over the last few years and Common is especially chilling as the meticulous and cold-hearted contract killer, Mr. Price.
What I enjoyed most about Run All Night though was that it is clear Collet-Serra has become more assured and more willing to experiment with each new film. It is in these small steps forward that you can really feel the difference in a film that has been made by a committee and one that has been crafted by a clear vision. This time around, Collet-Serra takes the approach of something along the lines of a pulpy, seventies cop drama and mixes it with the frenetic style that his soundtrack by Junkie XL reinforces quite nicely. The director pushes the action forward consistently by bringing something unique to each altercation. Whether it be in the brutality or the surrounding circumstances of the specific scene there is always a more specific reason to take notice of the action taking place on screen rather than the simple reason if it being action that gets us from point A to point B. There is a car chase that propels Jimmy after two crooked cops through the back streets of New York City that never feels as conventional as it should because it keeps the character motivations front and center which adds to the tension which only adds to the actions being all the more vital.
There is a scene that takes place in a high-rise apartment building where Collet-Serra stages a hand to hand combat confrontation that is striking not only for the imagery and wit the two individuals use, but for the stakes that have been set because of the tools and locations implemented. The tension that is built consistently is nothing short of exhilarating and rather than simply referring to NYC as another character or whatever the usual default is, Collet-Serra focuses in on using it to create just the right atmosphere to compliment the tone he is going for. This is accomplished fantastically as not only does the setting add to the sense of doom lurking around every corner or at each scene change, but it gives us a world to really invest and dig into with the character work and stirring story pushing my appreciation higher and higher. And so, whether you see this as just another in a string of quick paychecks for Neeson or not one must admit there is a certain flow to it with a flavor that works to make an undeniably infectious and somewhat fresh experience that enlists its more traditional elements only when necessary.