With the exception of the first Taken film, I’ve missed out on the glut of Liam Neeson action flicks that the rest of the world seems to have become bored with. Neeson himself seems through with the genre, making recent remarks that he’ll be leaving that era of his career behind within the next two years. Now I think I’ve done the man a disservice, because Run All Night feels like the perfect cap to a period of films I’ve unwittingly avoided.
I can’t comment on how Neeson’s other badass characters come across, but in Run All Night he is downright filthy. Neeson’s character Jimmy is a retired hitman who has nothing left in his life, other than his friendship with his former employer Shawn (Ed Harris). Jimmy is a drunk and a loser, consumed by regret for the life he has lived and the loss it has caused. Neeson doesn’t play the role with any coolness. He is ugly, crass (often humorously) and when the killing starts up, brutal. There’s no flash to how Neeson disposes of people in this movie, and I love that. It grounds the film and its lowdown tone. The movie is like something Walter Hill would have made in the early 80s.
That grungy old school structure leads to the film being littered with stereotypes, but they are all stereotypes that are executed well, so I don’t mind them. The only weak link in the film’s chain springs out of its main conceit: Jimmy protecting his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman) over the course of a night. The character of Michael is annoying on paper, full of resentment for his father and never missing an opportunity to bring it up. Not only does his constant anger become tiresome after his father saves his life multiple times, but his feelings contradict themselves in the same scene at times. This is all compounded by Kinnaman who performs with a permanent scowl on his face and a voice just two decibels above a mumble. It’s a shame that the film hangs itself on Jimmy and Michael’s relationship, because the scenes with the two of them butting heads always brings the movie to a dead stop.
Luckily, there’s plenty else going on that makes up for this. Ed Harris is delectable, bringing a consummate professionalism to his aged crime boss. Shawn is utterly likable and even understandable in his motives and feelings, which makes him a great antagonist. Common shows up as uber-hitman Price and adds some comic book fun to the mix. The role doesn’t require much acting, but one scene involving Price trying to get past a security guard shows Common has some chops, even if its just to get a dark chuckle out of the audience. You also get nice supporting turns from Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Nolte, and Holt McCallany.
Besides a strange and incorrect decision to have a floaty camera effect that travels around the city from time to time, Run All Night is a movie from a dirtier era of crime actioners. The characters are mostly all bad people, but we come to like them despite their horrid pasts. The movie doesn’t offer up anything original, but for what it is (a small scale piece of vicious high concept), it handles itself with extreme precision and clarity. Excluding Kinnaman, everyone is enjoyable to watch and there’s nothing and no one terribly extraneous to put up with.
Run All Night is a skeleton of a film, but it’s a great looking skeleton. For a simple time at the movies that doesn’t require you to be stupid, you can’t go wrong with this one. I’m worried that my enjoyment of this film will make Neeson’s other zanier action flicks seem bloated or over-the-top by comparison. Oh well, guess I’m off to find out.