At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Run All Night

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Crime Thriller/ Stars: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Common, Vincent D’Onofrio, Boyd Holbrook, Bruce McGill, Genesis Rodriguez, Holt McCallany, Beau Knapp, Nick Nolte/ Runtime: 114 minutes

Following their work together on movies like “Unknown” (aka amnesia in Berlin!) and “Non-Stop” (aka killer on a plane!), action star Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra have come together once again. This time however, they have given us an unexpected treat and managed to craft for us as an audience one of their most satisfying works to date. A feat, I might add, which they have managed to achieve not only by sticking to a tried-and-true crime movie template, but also by allowing a talented cast and tight production values to be the only high concept they need to drive the plot forward. Indeed while “Run All Night” isn’t perfect it is still quite surprisingly satisfying on its own terms and truly finds itself not only elevated by a better-than-average ensemble cast and some razor-sharp editing to cut through any nagging questions about the plot, but also because more than he’s been allowed to do a lot here recently Neeson actually gets to portray a real character here in the form of a man who while once upon a time may have once had a particular set of skills has seen them slowly but surely rusted away by age, regret, and whiskey and not necessarily in that order..

The plot is as follows: Jimmy Conlon used to be a notorious mob enforcer. Yet here lately it seems the man who’s rumored to be behind over at least a dozen murders at the behest of infamous mob boss and best friend Shawn Maguire really truly doesn’t have as much left to live for as he used to. Thus instead of being the guy who once upon a time if he was the one knocking on your door, you knew you were in trouble, he’s now nothing more than the guy who wakes up in the bar the next morning and just starts drinking again and who is also forced to beg Shawn’s son Danny for money only to have to drunkenly play Santa Claus at the Maguire Christmas party in order to get it. Oh and it doesn’t exactly help that Jimmy has also lost all touch with his son Mike, a former professional boxer who has done everything in his power to distant himself from Jimmy in every way he can and who is trying to live a straight life as a limo driver with his wife (Genesis Rodriguez) and two kids (with a third on the way). So we soon see that the first act of Run All Night really truly has nothing to do with either Liam Neeson or Ed Harris and is instead really the arc of their two sons: One who is trying to get away from the criminal underworld and the other diving as deeply as possible into it and who also just so happens to be the kind of dangerous sociopath who seems capable of doing whatever it takes to gain the respect of his father through criminal notoriety. To that end, Danny decides to bring heroin into his father’s criminal world, but Sean, seeing that drugs are bad for business, flat outright says no. Yet Albanian heroin dealers don’t like to be pushed out of a possible criminal enterprise and in their efforts to get Danny to pay them the money he owes them it just so happens that the dealers hire Mike to drive them to a meeting with Danny that goes horribly awry to the point that Jimmy gets involved, and before you know it, Danny is dead, and Mike has made himself a target of everybody in the criminal underworld. Thus Mike finds himself relying on his estranged dad, who upon choosing his son over his friendship with Sean has made himself a target as well, to keep him safe and alive till morning….

Now Neeson does arguably some of the best work of his action career here in that with this performance he manages to give us a look at a man who doesn’t just pop to life as a killing machine again. Rather he just plainly and simply has the muscle memory needed to get the job done one last time. Indeed while Jimmy may stumble through subway tunnels and take a beating every now and then he can still choke a man out and fire a perfect shot when he needs to, and Neeson manages to showcase this beautifully as well as rise above the potential cliché of the criminal redemption arc in that his take on the character of Jimmy is of a man doing what needs to be done and not necessarily in order to right the wrongs of his past, but because there’s nothing else he can do at this point. Indeed it is this aspect which also does a fantastic job of not allowing potential melodrama to sink into his portrayal. In addition I feel I should also add that watching Neeson and Harris in their scenes together, especially a great, tense meeting in the middle of the piece, is a surprising joy to be hold in that they’re both great actors showcasing why they’re regarded as much as they are, but also in that neither overplays the hero or villain archetype as we see that Jimmy, the good guy, is a drunk and a murderer while Shawn, the bad guy, does have a human side and is acting simply out of grief for the loss of his child. Indeed Harris and Neeson do such a fantastic job of making these characters far more relatable and yet complex at the same time than they would have been in the hands of other actors. Also the rest of the cast all do a formidable job at managing to keep up with these 2 screen legends as we get terrific performances from such character actors as Bruce McGill as Ed Harris’ right-hand man, Common who brings a chilling edge to his role of a professional assassin hired by Shawn and who has his own ax to grind with Jimmy, and the always reliable Vincent D’Onofrio who brings a fantastic doggedness/persistence to his role of Det. Harding and he proves a very capable foil to Neeson in the few scenes they share together.

Now Run All Night also finds itself subtly elevated by a top-notch team behind the camera with special regard going to Editor Craig McKay, a man who I might add is a two-time Oscar nominee for “Reds” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” This is because for at least an hour, “Run All Night” hums, and although to be fair, there is a bit of a sag in the middle and the entire film does run too long at nearly two hours, I urge you to also take note of the way McKay and Collet-Serra orchestrate a great sequence in a subway station, where they practically create a kind of rhythm between the cops trying to find Mike and the bad guys coming after Jimmy. However if you would like another example look at the great car chase scene, which although it is shot in a bit too much close-up (as are a few of the fights), the sequence overall has a visceral pace to it that makes it not only enjoyable but also impossible to look away from. Finally I would also like to submit that you watch one of the final action sequences which is set in a train yard and observe the way it perfectly fits together to build a truly palpable amount of tension. Indeed there’s a true tempo to “Run All Night” that so many boring action films lack, but which here really serves as the entertaining foundation that the whole film is, for the most part, successfully built on.

All in all while some of “Run All Night” doesn’t make a lot of sense and I did wish for a little more grit and a little less polish in some of its darker beats, although viewers should be warned that this piece doesn’t shy away from extreme violence at times. Indeed there should be a fine line between entertainment and being a bit too on-the-nose when you choose to set a shoot-out in an Irish bar to The Pogues, I can say with certainty that the film had won me over by that point. This is because at the end of the day Run All Night, despite it’s flaws, truly is proof that quality action films don’t really need to reinvent the wheel each time out as long as they can make a readily available wheel spin as smoothly as this. On a scale of 1-5 I give Run All Night a 3 out of 5.