In the wake of 2008’s “Taken,” Liam Neeson has fired off a barrage of action-thrillers, some good, some bad and some utterly forgettable. “Run All Night” falls somewhere in the middle.
Neeson stars as Jimmy Conlon, a once-feared hitman who’s now a lonely drunk without family and friends, save for still-loyal crime boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). However, their bond is severed when Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son Danny (a cagey Boyd Holbrook) to save the life of his own (Joel Kinnaman). That decision draws the full heat of both the Irish mob and the New York City Police Department on Jimmy and his son Michael.
This premise throws a rusty hitman and his estranged (and deeply bitter) kid into a road trip filled with car chases, shootouts and the unearthing of terrible family secrets. Theirs is a complicated ripe for drama. Resenting his father for a childhood lived in fear, Michael veered far away from Jimmy’s example, becoming a legitimate family man. Now forced to rely on his deadbeat dad to survive, their chemistry bristles with tension that makes every scene they share a tantalizing conflict.
Further enriching the drama is that Jimmy’s antagonist is also his only remaining friend. There’s a sorrow to the scenes between Neeson and Harris, one that speaks to a long history of shared regrets. These two titans don’t want to fight each other, but what other option have they left themselves? Neeson, Harris and Kinnaman bring a powerful depth to their performances, imbruing this narrative with a smooth and intoxicating emotional pull. Unfortunately, the script by Brad Ingelsby doesn’t know when enough is enough, and apparently neither does director Jaume Collet-Serra.
In addition to this strong central story, there’s a mess of characters and threads and inessential scenes, not to mention a series of silly CGI zooms that superfluously pull us from one location, high over the New York City skyline, to another. And so the screen time adds up, killing the momentum of “Run All Night” momentum.
There’s a cop (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his rookie partner dedicated to busting Jimmy for crimes now decades old. There’s a rival hitman (Common, all silk and sinister) who relishes the assignment to take out Jimmy “The Gravedigger” Conlon. There’s a slew of tough-talking gangsters (meat for the grinder) and a street-smart but sweet kid who could be a key witness. And just when you think this movie has enough characters to go to series, we take a pit stop to meet Jimmy’s previously unmentioned brother (Nick Nolte in low-key growling mode) for one protracted scene that leads to another overlong setup introducing Jimmy’s comatose mother for no justifiable reason.
By the time we get to Shawn and Jimmy’s inevitable showdown, the pace of the film has gone from a confident stride to a pained limp. And that’s when you’ll realize the first shot — Neeson on his back, wounded in the woods — is still far away.
At 114 minutes “Run All Night” goes from a suspenseful and satisfying cinematic experience to a tiresome slog. Collet-Serra, who previously directed Neeson in “Non-Stop” and “Unknown,” knows his way around an action scene, delivering riveting set pieces,and chilling payoffs. Unfortunately, his latest gets bogged down by the assumption that more is more, making this film just OK when it could have been great.
But ultimately, even a mediocre Neeson movie is still worth seeing; the guy is just such a solid badass. And his no-holds-barred brawl with Common is on its own worth the price of admission.
”Run All Night” opens today nationwide.
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