With his starring role in Run All Night, Liam Neeson continues to make his mark on the cinematic landscape as an aging action star. What is more remarkable than this late career reinvention is the prolific pace with which Neeson is appearing in these movies. It’s only March and this is the second Liam Neeson action vehicle of the year. And what we’re starting to see is a pattern with Neeson aged badasses. The most prominent of these trademarks, of course, is Neeson as a man of unbelievably lethal skills who has honed them over the course of decades at the expense of his family life. Reteaming with Non-Stop director (Jaume Collet-Serra), Run All Night has Neeson playing a lethal, self-loathing drunk of a badass. While Run All Night is certainly not as problematic as the Taken series with their incredibly regressive gender politics and irrational hatred of Albanians, it’s still not a particularly adept action movie, even if not entirely awful.
Once a hitman for Sean (Ed Harris), one New York’s biggest crime bosses, Jimmy Conlin (Neeson) is haunted by the ghosts of those he killed. He’s a fallen man with a reputation, sometime getting confronted by a NYPD Detective Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio), who just wants closure on a number of unsolved murders. Jimmy’s estranged son Michael (Joel Kinnaman) works as a limo driver and mentors underprivileged kids in his spare time. Sean’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is trying to arrange a deal with a gang of drug-running Albanians but when Sean refuses the deal, Danny is threatened by the Albanian gangsters. Danny arranges to pay off the Albanians, but kills them instead. But Danny’s actions were witnessed by Michael, who was the limo driver for the murdered. Now a decades-long friendship is put to the test as Sean and Jimmy take sides with their sons. With a number of police officers on Sean’s payroll, Jimmy and Michael must set aside their decades-long feud and survive the night in the city with everyone on their tail.
Of all the problems with Run All Night, the biggest problem is the film is just too long for the story it’s telling. Whether it’s car chases, shoot outs, or fist fights, the sequences drag out past their point of relevance and drag the film down as a whole. The action isn’t entirely clear, nor is it as incomprehensible as Taken 3. Half of the action scenes look good, then it gets choppy. More than anything, these extended sequence rob the film of its sense of urgency. I’d just be much more enthusiastic about this film had it maintained a lean 90-minute running time.
Even in his weaker action films, Neeson is a consistent captivating presence. That gruff Irish brogue lends even the more absurd elements a certain level of gravitas. As usual, Ed Harris is solid as the mobster with history. The scenes between Neeson and Harris is why this film works on any level. Two veteran actors bringing a familiarity to their characters. You really do believe there’s a history there. However, Neeson shares more screentime with Joel Kinnaman, who is infinitely better than he was in the Robocop remake, yet I’m still not sold on him as a leading man. I also can’t help but feel that Vincent D’Onofrio was wasted, needing a bit more meat to his story. But there is a brief, entertaining appearance from Nick Nolte.
Run All Night is a guy’s movie, no doubt about it. Aside from two small female roles, each of them as a wife and mother, there’s nothing but a sausage fest. At the very least, the film avoids the troubling depiction of women in the Taken movies. While Run All Night wants to be a film that is subverting older notions of masculinity – loyalty, toughness, fatherhood – it’s just passable in these moments. And that’s Run All Night as a whole, passable.