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It’s no mistake that since Liam Neeson redefined the second act of his career with 2008’s Taken that movies which require him to get physical have been popping up more and more often. People just cannot get enough of him knocking a few heads. So what if the movie is not as good as it could be. Watching Neeson in action is the selling point, no matter what the circumstances.
This particular circumstance sees Neeson in the role of Jimmy Conlon, an aging streetwise mobster/hitman down on his luck, leading a tortured, lonely life and reduced to playing Santa Claus for a loan to pay his heating bill. Conlon is best friends with his former mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), until Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is killed in self-defense. The fallout from Danny’s death leads to a war between Conlon and Maguire for the fate of Conlon’s estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman). With Mike and his family in danger, Colon and Mike must engage in an all out marathon to escape the mob.
Is this the best action-thriller around? Frankly, no. There are stronger ones. That said, Run All Night does come with its surprises and genuinely key moments. The action is tight and well-choreographed, even if it sometimes is uneven or improbable on nearly the same level as Taken 3. There were nice unique touches in terms of the technical execution. Some of the scene transitions were particularly creative and evoked a sort of next-generation video game feel of zooming out from the action and viewing everything from above using the game’s map to discover where your next mission is, or how far one area is from where you are. Thankfully, this was not used for every transition, but it was surprising that this kind of zoom out was used instead of a dissolve or another type of transition. It’s one of those nice little touches that contributes to this film’s identity and makes it it’s own thing, like the wipe transition does for the Star Wars films. While it was a cool aspect, it did feel like a video game as the ins and outs of such a zoom out transition were likely done via computer animation, which one could see. It could have been tighter because it was unlikely that it was meant to give the film a hint of a video game quality.
The film contains some great intimate character moments. A scene in a restaurant between Conlon and Maguire has a very Heat feel, reminiscent of the scene in which Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro’s characters sit down and begin to have a heart to heart over coffee. Even the confrontation between the two feels inspired by Michael Mann’s classic. Other nice moments were the complex father and son pieces between Conlon and Michael. Even if at times Kinnaman’s acting does not quite sit right against Neeson’s consistently, the touches are genuine.
Neeson continues to be in top form playing a character with more layers to him than Bryan Mills. You might say that Jimmy Conlon is the next step after playing Matt Scudder in A Walk Among the Tombstones. Conlon is a darker character, but he also is vulnerable; something that Neeson does very well. His New York accent here is an improvement over the one he displayed in Tombstones, but his Irish-ness still comes through, which is fine. However, it’s been said before and it will be said once more that Neeson using swear words or delivering crass and vulgar lines simply does not work. Nevermind that he can do so with great conviction, it just does not always come off convincingly because he’s Liam Neeson and even when he’s supposed to be unrefined, there is something refined about the quality he brings to a role. Ed Harris is solid and effective in a precise manner as the mob-boss father in the midst of grief. He’s a mobster with a soft spot and his pain fuels his anger. Harris makes it look easy, he could have played this character in his sleep.
This film contains some nice cameos from the likes of Common, Vincent D’Onofrio and Nick Nolte, which add some unexpected flavor to the picture though Nolte’s character probably was not necessary. He did however, serve a key function for the story delivering key information. There were almost too many family threads to be aware of even if they were seemingly irrelevant threads. One thing is certain, Run All Night is not the repackaged Taken that many assumed it would be. It actually has some substance even if it doesn’t have as much as some other action-thrillers. Should you go see it? I’d say, ‘sure,’ at some point. I wouldn’t tell you to run to see it; you might do just as well to catch it on DVD.