Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Released in 2015
Blood runs thicker than water in Run All Night, but the water might as well be out to kill you, too. Enraged Irish mobsters, crooked cops and one smooth assassin are merely the humans out for Liam Neeson and his son, as rain, fog and blasts of fire also engulf their surroundings with a hostile agency. The inevitability and omnipresence of violence on display is downright Biblical, and mature in a way that the revenge camp of Taken, the movie that started this whole party, is not. If director Jaume Collet-Serra does not match the smooth classicism of Non-Stop, his genre jewel from last year and the finest Neeson vehicle yet, then he lacquers Run All Night’s unremarkable script with enough grit to make for some essential, elemental action cinema.
Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) must protect his estranged son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), because he himself killed the son of his best friend, Shawn. The kid (Boyd Holbrook) was about to shoot Mike, and he was a brat who insulted Jimmy on the regular, and Shawn pulled out enough hair over his son’s delinquency to end up being played by Ed Harris, but when your son ends up clipped in a Brooklyn kitchen, you are not too open to being eased by words that start, “Well, in the long run…” So Shawn releases the hounds, so to speak, ordering his people to snuff out Mike’s life first so that Jimmy will feel firsthand the pain of losing a son.
Jimmy and Mike do a lot of running through streets, subway tunnels and the projects, obviously. But the many chase scenes do not grow tedious, because Collet-Serra opted to shoot on location and cinematographer Martin Ruhe knows how to lens New York City. Even when flanked by neon, these men are bisected by shadows, which naturally populate the dingy corners in which they find refuge. Fight scenes draw attention to bloody mouths, trembling heels and the scum on bathroom floors as much as punches swung. The violence is literally too dark and the scuffles too messily desperate for Jimmy’s particular set of skills to provide fodder for “oh, snap!” humor à la Taken.
Brad Ingelsby’s script has only one good line, I think. It’s when a platoon of police cars and helicopters surround the project where the two are hiding, and Jimmy turns to his panicked son and says, “It’s a big building. We got some time. Let’s wait.” The rest is merely serviceable, while many of Shawn’s lines sound lifted from what Don or Michael Corleone once said (“I am a legitimate businessman,” “There’s not enough money in the world to pull me back in”). Of course, Harris makes it all work, embodying through his ghoulish mask and rising cadence the unhinged volatility that comes with grieving while searching for blood.
Playing an unapologetic killer many shades darker than his Matt Scudder from last year’s ace A Walk Among the Tombstones, Neeson can’t do much to make him sympathetic but play up his quotidian flaws: alcoholic, sickly, single. Jimmy remains bad to the bone, and one senses his father bear instinct is conflated with a renewed taste for blood. When pointing a gun, Jimmy hardens his face before taking the shot, leaving a brief pause between reaction and life-ending action. He is so good at killing that he has time to consider and perhaps even savor it, which must cycle back into an unending, bloodletting feedback loop.
While the computer-generated scene transitions that fly over broad swathes of cityscape do their best to distract from this fact, Collet-Serra has a talent for capturing the minute, physical gesture. He wrings suspense from the act of reloading, and how, in the heat of battle, those with empty clips must compromise by using their knees or tips of their fingers to do so. He rarely brings bodies together in proximity or even in the same shot, since everyone is out to kill one another. Only after one character lands a fatal shot on the other, near the end, does Collet-Serra allow the two adversaries to unite again and lean on one another in a heartbreaking display of belated gentility.
The film turns into a horror show when Common pops in as a ruthless, machine-like hired gun, with a night vision eyepiece that hammers comparisons with the Terminator into almost-fact. His character is a cliché, though Common brings the cool, which anyone who saw him earlier this month at Bailey can testify he has in spades. An interesting twist is that the aforementioned fog and smoke screws with his night vision piece, and so multiple times he is forced, mid-fight, to tear it off, making him a chump like anyone else. Maybe God is raining down all that hellfire not to kill the Neesons, but to force his enemies to treat him with a little respect.
3 Stars Out of 5
This article was written for The Cornell Daily Sun.