Run All Night is the third outing for the now bonafide, 62-year-old action star Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra. Previously you had Unknown or Non-Stop, and neither were exactly hits, though the latter’s attempt at Hitchcock was certainly the better of the two. In a weird way Run All Night tops them both, but manages to do so thanks largely to performances, having much less to do with Brad Ingelsby‘s script as the reasoning for why the action takes place is rather ridiculous and each and every action sequence suffers some sort of set back, be it length or just a sheer lack of logic. The performances, however, allow the audience to overlook some of these issues, resulting in a movie that’s more entertaining than it deserves to be.
More than anything else, Run All Night is a tale of redemption. Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, an ex-hitman who worked for aging mob boss (Ed Harris) for several years and has long since been retired from the job. He’s now a drunk and outsider with only Shawn looking after him, not even his own son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), wants anything to do with him. Shawn’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), is a bit of a letdown, looking to impress his father in ways he believes his father will appreciate, not understanding Shawn doesn’t want to see his son follow in his footsteps, hoping he’ll avoid a criminal way of life.
It’s this generational theme that pulses through Run All Night and the fuse is lit when Mike is witness to Danny killing two drug smugglers. Danny, attempting to clean up his mess against his father’s wishes, sets out to kill Mike, but Jimmy is there to stop him… with a bullet to the neck. Admitting what he did to Shawn, Shawn’s sympathy for Jimmy ends and he puts the order out for both Mike and Jimmy to be killed, Mike first so Jimmy can suffer. You know what that means right? It’s time for Mike and Jimmy to… run all night.
Told over the course of 16 hours, Collet-Serra utilizes some CG wizardry to bounce us around the city of New York, an idea I actually enjoyed as the camera goes airborne, moving us from one neighborhood to the next, but he gives up on the idea about a third of the way through the film. In his defense, it wasn’t necessary to the story, but I did enjoy the mild sense of immediacy it gave to each and every situation. But who needs immediacy when you have relentless action? Too bad from the time Jimmy and Mike put rubber to pavement, the action never hits any true high notes.
None of the action is particularly shot all that well. A car chase through the streets of New York City is ridiculously destructive. Yet, it’s only what happens after the chase that puts Mike and Jimmy in the police crosshairs, helping the audience forget they destroyed about fifteen New York City blocks in the process, something the film doesn’t even attempt to acknowledge. A later chase sequence in an apartment building goes on and on only to allow a ridiculously simply escape in the end, though it, admittedly, further emphasizes Jimmy’s path to redemption and this is where the heart of the film lies.
Jimmy’s shame and Mike’s anger toward his father fuel this movie, and both Neeson and Kinnaman elevate what is an otherwise C-level story into something worth watching. Ingelsby’s script, while overly convoluted with a setup that’s too simple and cliche, handles the moments between Jimmy and Mike very, very well. Collet-Serra also allows these scenes to resonate, a shift from the whiz-bang nature of everything else that takes place. Neeson exhibits true regret and it’s a film where you can understand why Mike would actually forgive the father he’s hated all these years. That’s tough to do, because it doesn’t get much more cliche than that, especially in films largely geared toward “action first”.
Overall, the flaws are noticeable, there’s nothing overly impressive from a story perspective and the action isn’t anything memorable. Common as a Terminator-esque hitman is silly and his monstrous motivations go entirely unexplained and yet we must accept he’s the big boss at the end of a story that is really nothing more than just another video game come to life. These facts taken into consideration, I can’t say I wasn’t entertained, the glue holding it all together being the performances and what are rather well-written quieter moments. Hell, even the silly sit down between Shawn and Jimmy worked, particularly the punch Jimmy delivers one of Shawn’s goons at the end.
Run All Night isn’t a movie you need to see in theaters or necessarily a movie you need to see at all, but I think if you do see it, you’ll enjoy some of these moments and, in the end, feel satisfied with what you saw.