Run All Night (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2015)
When will Liam Neeson stop running? Since Taken, in 2008, he’s made a series of movies (including two Taken sequels) in which he plays a flawed man with killer skills who always rises to the occasion when duty (usually familial) calls. The man who once gave us Oskar Schindler has now become such a pop-cultural icon that he has become a parody of himself. I hope the money is good. Sure, many of these films are entertaining, but they’re getting old along with Neeson, who just recently announced that he’ll stop making them in about two years. Finally! That’s a good thing, because if Run All Night is any guide, there’s not much left to do with the genre (other than to not do it well).
Made by a man who has twice previously put Neeson through his paces – in Unknown and Non-Stop – Run All Night features Neeson as a New York Irish gangster in the employ of Ed Harris (Snowpiercer). An alcoholic wreck, Neeson’s Jimmy Conlon is haunted by the memory of the men he has killed over the years, and wracked by guilt over his neglect of his family. He has an adult son – played by Joel Kinnaman (who has to start making better movie choices) – who now avoids all contact. But this being a tight-knit movie world, that son eventually runs head-on into Ed Harris’s boy – played by Boyd Holbrook (terrific in Little Accidents, but wasted here) – bad things happen, and suddenly the two Conlon men must learn to get along in order to survive. It takes a long time getting to the action (which is why we watch these kinds of films in the first place) – indeed, “Jog All Night” might be a better title, or perhaps “Taken It Slow” – and the backstory we sit through beforehand is a bit of a slog, but once the violence (sort of) erupts, there are some decent thrills. Until there aren’t.
Among those thrills is a pretty nifty car chase involving crooked cops that raised my adrenaline to a satisfying level and a few other sequences that, to be honest, are rapidly fading from my memory. What isn’t vanishing so quickly is my slight queasiness over the movie’s odd (but normal, by Hollywood standards) racial politics. Or maybe “politics” is the wrong word. The film simply shows the same neglect towards people of color as Jimmy has shown towards his son all these years. They’re mostly convenient props, and you need them around (maybe), but treating them like real characters isn’t necessary. Common (excuse me, Oscar-winner Common) shows up as a lethal hit man, and then there’s the fatherless African-American boy – “Legs,” played by Aubrey Joseph (Fading Gigolo) – mentored by Conlon, Jr. There’s also a building-full of screaming low-income residents who find themselves under siege when the Conlons hide out in their apartments. Fun stuff. And those are three-dimensional characterizations compared to the film’s women (who? what? where?). Again, nothing new (and after all, I really just want more car chases).
If director Jaume Collet-Serra and writer Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace) had simply accepted the terms of the genre and given us the high-octane thrills we crave minus the pseudo-operatics they feel a need to throw in upon occasion, then the film might have worked as a low-rent Taken (already cheap enough). As it is, it’s too often soggy when it should be firm, too often meandering when it should be brisk. We do not need to see the mother (with whom we have barely spent screen time) of a recently deceased character collapse in the arms of her husband. What we need is a little less conversation (unless it’s good non-expositional talk, which it never is), and a little more action please (thank you, Elvis!).