Liam Neeson has now teamed up with director Jaume Collet-Serra three times, and while none of the trio of action-thrillers—Unknown, Non-Stop and now Run All Night—have exactly lit the world on fire, their latest, especially in light of Neeson’s admission he’s getting too old for this shit, is easily the best of the bunch. There are absolutely no surprises to be found here—if you’ve seen the trailers, you know precisely what you’re getting into—and while the film is drastically overlong, if you’re looking for a gritty tale of survival and revenge seemingly hailing from some bygone cinematic era, you could do much worse than Run All Night. Solid action, strong cast, excellent use of a Pogues song.
Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, an aging, down-on-his-luck Irish gangster with only one friend in the world. Fortunately for him, that friend is neighborhood boss (and childhood pal) Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), the sole reason Jimmy is still around. When Jimmy’s estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) witnesses Shawn’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), execute a pair of Albanian gangsters, Danny shows up to “clean up his own mess” by taking care of Mike—and instead, Jimmy kills Danny. Father and son are then forced to go on the lamb—hiding from killers, goons and corrupt cops—to, ahem, run all night.
Neeson’s portrayal of Jimmy is an intentional deconstruction of the action-hero persona he’s built in movies like the Taken franchise, where he’s essentially an indestructible killing machine. Taking his less-than-admirable character from Non-Stop and pushing it to the extreme, in Run All Night, Neeson plays a drunk joke, a fuck-up who passes out at the bar and farts in his sleep. If it wasn’t for Shawn keeping him afloat, he’d have been dead long ago. Once a remorseless but efficient monster, Shawn’s strong-armed enforcer, Jimmy is now, past middle age, haunted by his past, constantly seeing the faces of those he killed like a waking nightmare. In other words, he’s broken and fallible, the kind of washed-up badass who, at just about any turn, may totally fail and be killed—though Neeson still controls the screen with his charisma.
For his part, Harris emanates a cold, cool menace. Shawn is an old school gangster with a code and a sense of duty—he sold cocaine in his youth, but watched too many friends disintegrate under its influence, and so won’t go down that path again with heroin. There’s no joy or even malice in his using his considerable resources to hunt Mike and Jimmy; it’s just what he has to do, and both he and Jimmy know it. They’re fathers, doing what fathers must, protecting and avenging their sons: tough guys saying tough things to each other. The moments in which these two great actors come together are the truest pleasures of the film.
Filmed in New York, Run All Night is very much a product of the Big City. Collet-Serra and writer Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace) use this environment to add a layer of grime to the story; a car chase through the Brooklyn streets even tips its cap to The French Connection, and the action has that dirt-under-the-fingernails grit absent from a typically slick, big-budget tentpole. Yet, stylistic flourishes—such as the camera swooping from one neighborhood to another, soaring through buildings and fences, or flagrantly showing off the NYC skyline—sometimes serve as a distraction, visually incongruous to the rest of the film and just plain jarring to watch.
At 114 minutes, Run All Night is about 20 minutes away from being a much tighter film. As it is, however, its second act is bloated and meandering, with many threads that could easily have been left in the editing suite: like an awkward flashback in the middle of a scene that only exists for a surprise cameo (one so underground it’s not even listed in the end credits); or how, in the middle of this night of pursuit and evasion, Jimmy pauses to visit his unconscious mother in the hospital; or the presence of a very particular assassin, played by Common, who could easily have been replaced to streamline the picture. Run All Night is at its best when it’s reveling in its mounting tension, maneuvering Mike and Jimmy through both the shadowy underworld and their own troubled pasts.
Though some of the action sequences, specifically the hand-to-hand combat, are a jumble of too-quick, borderline incoherent edits, you’ve seen much worse. Still, Collet-Serra’s a widely inconsistent director, confidently delivering nothing but exactly what to expect. Which means that Run All Night is a solidly hard-boiled crime picture infused with true moments of bravado, and we should enjoy Neeson’s continued late-career action renaissance while it lasts.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writer: Brad Ingelsby
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Boyd Holbrook, Common
Release: March 13, 2015