Liam Neeson’s latest geri-actioner, Run All Night, finds him re-teaming with the director of unimaginative action movies Unknown and last year’s Non-Stop for a gritty urban thriller that, despite an over-reliance on tired tropes and superfluous stylistic flourishes, offers a tense and engaging exploration of redemption, loyalty and family.
The Taken-actor is never anything less than an intense and empathetic presence as Jimmy Conlon, an ageing, alcoholic hitman who is forced to test his loyalty towards his brutal former boss, Shawn Maguire, when he and his estranged son, Mike, are caught up in the murder of Shawn’s reckless progeny, Danny.
While the action genre might still be considered a young man’s game, it’s unsurprising that it’s the two veteran performers, Neeson and Harris, who stand out here. Neeson’s Jimmy may wear a leather jacket and have a knack for pummeling faces like Bryan Mills, but he cuts a far more complex figure, battling an overwhelming guilt for his past crimes with a steady supply of booze while the pain of having to abandon his family only compounds his misery and loneliness.
Harris, too, is served with a meaty role in Jimmy’s life-long friend Shawn, a cold and ruthless criminal driven to avenge his son’s death. The four-time Oscar nominee bestows his character with a surprising depth of feeling, allowing us to see the agony of being betrayed by his closest friend behind that intimidating stare. Their bitter feud plays out as a subtle character study into the importance of brotherhood and honour in men, with every scene between the pair bursting with a raw emotion that hints at the rich history they share.
Yet, while this tale of divided loyalty is handled with depth and restraint, it’s just about the only thing in the film that is. Brad Ingelsby’s script simply can’t resist indulging the thriller genres most commonplace cliches, presenting us with a protagonist who is a broken alcoholic until that trait no longer serves the plot, at which point it’s immediately forgotten, and setting the action in such hackneyed locations as a shady, mob-owned bar and an isolated lakeside cabin that just so happens to be the perfect place for a climatic shootout. All of which smacks of the lack of invention that spoilt Ingelsby’s previous effort, 2013’s Out of the Furnace.
Jaume Collet-Serra’s direction is also a mixed bag. At times he displays an impressive aptitude for executing slick and brutal action sequences, such as a pulsating car chase through the not-so-glamorous New York City streets, which revels in its breathless suspense.
It’s when Serra lets his imagination run too wild, however, that he runs into trouble. Too often the director overloads scenes with gratuitous flourishes, like choosing to race across Brooklyn’s rooftops and zoom in on the next location rather than simply cut between the two, or incessantly using speed-ramping, a device that went out of fashion about 30 seconds after the end of 300, to inject some extra dramatic flare when none is required.
If Serra had kept things simple, and focused more on Jimmy and Shawn’s richly rewarding relationship, then Run All Night might have turned into something special. Instead, it’s merely a taut, exhilarating, at times frustratingly preposterous, thriller that had the potential to be so much more.
Runtime: 114 mins; Genre: Action/Thriller; Released: 13 March 2015;
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra; Screenwriter: Brad Ingelsby;
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Boyd Holbrook
Click here to watch the trailer for Run All Night