Run All Night wants to be the kind of morally murky, New York-flavored crime thriller that Sidney Lumet used to make. It also aims to be the latest action movie where Liam Neeson plays a man with the skills to kill every bad guy who gets in his way. Run All Night (a title that sounds like a Nike slogan) is the third time Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Sera have collaborated, after Unknown and Non-Stop. Unfortunately, it has the polish but unmemorable afterglow of the former and minus the trashy fun of the latter.
Neeson plays “Jimmy the Gravedigger,” an Irish mobster who has served the same boss (played by Ed Harris) his whole life. Jimmy is estranged from his son (Joel Kinnaman), who wants nothing to do with his father’s life. However, after his son becomes a witness to a murder, Jimmy vows to protect his son for one night, as New York’s finest and a ice-blooded hit man (Common) are in pursuit.
There’s no doubt Neeson’s star power helped get this made but he’s miscast. Playing a drunken loser who manages to sober up long enough to protect his son, he’s just not believable as a pathetic, washed-up thug. Having done far too many films where he dispatches hundreds of opponents, it’s no longer a surprise to see Neeson rise to the challenge and murder dozens and dozens of bad guys.
A scene early in the movie, where Jimmy drunkenly dresses like Santa and ruins his boss’s Christmas party, is embarrassing for all the wrong reasons. Kinnaman is in good form but, as in the Robocop remake, he’s better than the material. Common plays his murderer for hire so well, I wish more time were given to his character.
Harris is one of my favorite actors and he makes his scenes count, but this is a far cry from State of Grace, the similarly themed 1990 Irish mob thriller he co-starred alongside Sean Penn and Gary Oldman. That movie is a big league gangster classic. Run All Night in comparison, is pee-wee league.
The action is well staged but the editing hinders it, making some of the stunt work and chases too jumbled. Lethal Weapon maestro Richard Donner was a maverick (pun intended) at shaping elaborate foot and auto chases. Collet-Sera, in comparison, finds his best efforts muted by jarring cuts to the action. There are CGI-enhanced camera swoops of the city, which is a cool framing device at first, until the movie overuses it. The dialogue is mostly a collection of tough guy movie clichés, like this one: “put some sugar in your coffee, officer, cuz it’s gonna be a long night.”
Late in the film, there’s a sequence set in a high-rise apartment, in which Neeson and Kinnaman are pursued by Common, evade the police and survive a fire. It’s the lone, sustained set-piece that builds momentum and tension.
This makes the same mistake of many other films, by opening with its last scene first. It then cuts to “16 Hours Earlier” and works back to first scene/end of the movie. The establishing scene spoils the plot developments in the over-extended finale.
To cut Run All Night a break, it’s better and has more on its mind than either Taken sequels. This is less a Neeson Murders the Big Apple vehicle than a dark tale of how the sins of the father poison the next generation. Harris and Neeson may not have the best material but in their shared scenes, they clearly relish the opportunity to work together. Their one-on-one scenes are so good, you wish the movie around it were better.