‘Run All Night’ is director Jaume Collet-Serra’s third consecutive Liam Neeson film, the first being “Liam Neeson kills a lot of people despite having amnesia” (‘Unknown’) followed by “Liam Neeson kills a lot of people on an airplane” (‘Non-Stop’). In ‘Run All Night’, Neeson plays a hit man haunted by his past who saves his estranged adult son’s life by killing his crime boss’ thuggish adult son; of course, there are consequences, and this hit man, once known as the Gravedigger, tries to protect his boy from those out to kill both of them. In other words, this is “Liam Neeson kills a bunch of people in order to protect his son around the holidays”.
A curiosity: the story is set at Christmas, but there is no snow on the ground anywhere in any part of New York. I also noticed all the Christmas lights were indoor and never outside. The big climactic showdown takes place by a lake far away from the city where there is also no snow to be found.
I digress. ‘Run All Night’ is a fun and kinetic R-rated revenge thriller delivered efficient, and well, like pizza. It has a great cast: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Vicent D’Onofrio, and rapper Common playing against type; Joel Kinnaman might be the weak link here – with all the actorly acting surrounding him, Kinnaman unremarkably takes on the working class guy who tries to do the right thing. Thanks to Mr. Collet-Seera’s sharp direction and the terrific cast, ‘Run All Night’ feels much more substantial than it has any right to.
This propulsive action film has a number of extravagant set pieces including a high-speed car chase through Queens, a fire in an enormous housing project, and the hockey crowds exiting Madison Square Garden after a big game. These sequences pay off very well. But the moments in between the explosions work equally well. You buy into the relationship between Liam Neeson and Ed Harris as lifelong friends turned brutal rivalries; the actors sell it, yes, but part of it has to do with the film’s sense of place. Within this deeply steeped, entrenched Irish community, there is a code among the thieves and the gangsters. Remove the action elements from ‘Run All Night’ and you’re left with a James Gray movie.
Composer Junkie XL’s “WAM” score is about as subtle as his name. Also, if the film’s opening shots didn’t presage the climax, then the third act might not have felt as predictable and stretched out. Minor criticisms. ‘Run All Night’ works on the same level ‘Taken’, ‘The Grey’, and ‘Non-Stop’ did. Liam Neeson has created his own sub-genre and other actors are now following suit: Denzel Washington in ‘The Equalizer’, Sean Penn in the upcoming ‘The Gunman’, and Owen Wilson in the upcoming ‘No Escape’. Because Neeson has racked it up over the years with serious dramatic fare, he has the gravitas to transform what would otherwise be a disposable character into a sympathetic and relatable one. One with a very particular set of skills though. QED.