Is Liam Neeson becoming the new Charles Bronson, a staple of the routine, shoot-em-up vengeance vehicle? With films like Taken and its sequels, Neeson has become the action hero du jour, and he manages to acquit himself well in these testosterone heavy roles. He has a solid and dependable presence, and he always delivers the goods, even in routine and substandard fare. And he still cuts it as the action hero in his latest film Run All Night.
This is Neeson’s third collaboration with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Sera, who guided him through his paces in the thriller Unknown and Non-Stop. Collet-Sera maintains a relentless, non-stop pace throughout this derivative but enjoyable thriller. And there are a few moments of respite that allow the audience time to catch their breath before moving on to the next well staged scene of carnage and mayhem. There is a rather vicious edge to the violence here that is reminiscent of the recent A Walk Among the Tombstones.
And Neeson’s character here also shares a few characteristics with the flawed protagonist of that neo-noir film. Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a gangland hitman known as the Gravedigger for his ruthless efficiency. But he is now basically a cynical, world weary drunk. Conlon is the childhood friend of Sean Maguire (Ed Harris), who has become a powerful figure in the Irish mob in New York. Maguire is a man of principles who refuses to have anything to do with drugs.
But when Maguire’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook, from A Walk Among The Tombstones) becomes involved with a bunch of Albanian gangsters and drug smugglers, he sets in motion a chain of bloody events that will bring Conlon and Maguire into conflict. Danny kills a couple of the Albanians, a murder that is witnessed by Conlon’s estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman, from the TV series The Killing, and the recent remake of Robocop), a limousine driver who has nothing to do with the criminal world. But Danny decides to eliminate Mike. Conlon saves his son’s life, but in the process kills Danny.
In this world of strange loyalties, there is a rule concerning harming a member of someone’s family. Such as act carries dire consequences, and Conlon has crossed a line from which there is no turning back. Even though Danny was in the wrong and his actions went against Maguire’s wishes, Maguire senior will go to any lengths to punish Conlon for the death of his son. Meanwhile Conlon will do anything to protect Mike and prevent him from being dragged down into the cesspool of this brutal underworld of death and destruction.
The action takes place over a period of 16 hours, as Conlon and his son desperately try to outrun Maguire’s mob, some corrupt cops on Maguire’s payroll, and a ruthlessly efficient and seemingly unstoppable hitman known as Price (played by rapper Common). Collet-Sera handles the key action sequences in muscular style, and the highlights include a frantic car chase through the streets of New York, a shootout in a high rise apartment block, and a fight to the death in a dingy bathroom.
The film looks good thanks to some fluid camerawork from cinematographer Martin Ruhe, who gives New York a sleek surface sheen and captures some great urban streetscapes. A lot of the action takes place at night, and Ruhe’s moody lighting suffuses the nocturnal settings with a sense of menace. There are also some neat visual flourishes, particularly in the transition from one location to another, that is very 70s in style.
The dynamic tension between Conlon and his estranged son also adds an intriguing element to the action and elevates the material above the usual formula of this genre.
Neeson has a strong presence on screen, and also is good at playing flawed anti-heroes. Collet-Sera uses his formidable presence effectively here in a role that doesn’t stretch Neeson’s talents too far. Kinnaman brings a nice sense of vulnerability to his role as the essentially honest Mike, caught up in a dangerous situation by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Harris brings gravitas and intensity to his performance as Maguire, and adds a poignant quality to his role as the grieving father seeking vengeance. Vincent D’Onofrio brings a strong presence to his role as the dogged and honest New York detective who shares some history with Conlon and is obsessed with bringing him to justice. Nick Nolte contributes a brief, blink and you miss him cameo.
Run All Night has been written by Brad Ingelsby, who previously wrote the blue collar revenge drama Out of the Furnace, and this film shares a few thematic similarities, as it also deals with concepts of misguided masculinity, loyalty, family honour, vengeance, loyalty amongst crooks, and redemption. This may well be another familiar and generic action thriller about redemption and vengeance, but the strong characterisation and muscular action sequences lift it above much of the genre. This exciting and brutal action thriller is a superior example of the genre and something of a guilty pleasure.
Director: Jaume Collet-Sera
Cast: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnamon, Boyd Holbrook and Ed Harris
Release date: 29 July 2015 (DVD and on-demand)
Rated: MA 15+
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television