“I’ve done terrible things in my life” growls Liam Neeson. Lying on his back in a wood, a gunshot wound in his side, he gazes up to the misty canopy through glassy eyes and laments past sins catching up to him. We’re very firmly in Taken/A Walk Among the Tombstones territory as we begin Catalan director Jaume Collet-Serra’s third endeavour with the mid-Atlantic over-50s badass.
JC-S’s latest film draws on the one man versus the world schtick of Unknown and Non-Stop, ticking many of the boxes of the Neeson-on-a-rampage genre the actor has carved himself in recent years, along with such unfortunate script howlers as the aforementioned opening line. Having said that, Run All Night proves that there is still some gas left in the rather battered tank. Focusing on family – in both the traditional and criminal sense – its tale of murder, revenge, split loyalties and last gasp attempt to make amends allows for a greater depth of characterisation than prior outings and plays out on a stormy December night across several New York boroughs.
Neeson is of course Irish-American (he has the Eire tattoo to prove any doubters), playing mobster Jimmy Conlon. Jim likes a drink too many, makes passes at his buddies’ wives, used to kill people for a living and is estranged from his son, limo-driving amateur boxer and all round good egg, Mike (Joel Kinnaman, who stares intensely at everything throughout). As counterpoint to the old man, Mike of course has a stunning wife (Genesis Rodriguez) and beautiful children but they sadly act as little more than narrative bait for the bad guys. In any case, events will conspire to give the chalk and cheese pairing some valuable, and overdue, bonding time: “Listen to your father for one night” is another clanger in a script which does have some commendable moments along the way.
Conlon Sr. has been in the employ of friend and boss Shawn Maguire for 40 years but must kill his heroine-dealing waster of a son, Danny, (Boyd Holbrook) to save his own. Cue blood feud between long-standing blood brothers.
Maguire is played with a similarly gruff we’ve-been-in-this-business-too-long reticence by Ed Harris and watching the heavyweights slug it out for the first time together is engaging. A restaurant scene where mercy is pleaded but vengeance vowed and a later foot pursuit across a deserted rail-yard seem to aspire to Michael Mann’s Heat to some extent and while Run certainly doesn’t hit such heights their joint onscreen presence does exude a weary experience. They’ve been in the game a long time but they’re still swinging.
Nicknamed “The Gravedigger”, Jimmy puts a fair few others in the ground here and throws more punches than you can reasonably count. Both director and lead actor have established that they have action sequences down pat in former outings; close quarter battles and high speed chases are again of a pulse-raising calibre. German cinematographer Martin Ruhe shoots from innumerable angles and the editing chops so thick and fast that we hurtle through set pieces dizzyingly quickly. Camera effects which spiral in reverse through the subway or swing from building to building Spidey-style might strike some as gimmicky but nevertheless fling us across the Big Apple as the night’s cat and mouse chase transpires.
Vincent D’Onofrio is “the only cop I [Connor] can trust”, rapper Common features as emotionless and unrelenting killer “Price” sent after the Conlons by Maguire when all else fails and Nick Nolte makes a brief cameo as Jim’s brother hidden beneath a sea of beard: the director certainly has enough clout to put some reputable names together and certain narrative clichés aside, the end result is a fast-paced and well-constructed thriller.
As the death count mounts Neeson enters the mob’s drinking hole to the sound of The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ and doesn’t take any prisoners there either. A bit like the Hulk in a leather jacket, he has developed all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. It’s hard to remember him as Alfred Kinsey, Oskar Schindler or even the dopey step-dad in Love Actually. In 2016 he will play a 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priest in Martin Scorsese’s Silence which would suggest a move back to a former direction. Nevertheless, God help anyone who stands in his way…
Run All Night is released on DVD in the UK on 10th August.