When we first meet Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson), an aging, dissolute enforcer for Irish crime boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), he’s lying on his back, shotgun near his outstretched hand, blood oozing from his side. There is running and shooting around him. Is it a flashback? A flash forward? A dream? Although it’s left open to interpretation, the scene hangs over Conlon much like the shadow of Neeson’s last five or six thrillers hang over Run All Night, the actor’s third collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra following the lousy Unknown and the surprisingly fun Non-Stop.
That’s not to say that Run All Night is a bad film; while I prefer Non-Stop’s puzzle box mystery, this one is well-directed for maximum tension by Serra, efficiently scripted by Brad Ingelsby, and smoothly acted by well-traveled veterans like Neeson, Harris and Bruce McGill (who sadly doesn’t seem to get a single line). Neeson’s Conlon and Harris’ Maguire are old friends, going all the way back to the start of their criminal careers together, which is why Maguire keeps Conlon on the payroll even if his arrogant son, heir-to-the-throne Danny (Boyd Holbrook), wants to get rid of the old man.
As soon as Danny enters the picture, you know he’s going to cause trouble (much like the crime boss son in The Raid 2), first by trying unsuccessfully to broker a deal between his pop and some Albanian heroin dealers, then by killing the dealers when they come to his place to get their deposit back. Unfortunately, in one of those only-in-Hollywood plot twists, the Albanians’ limo driver is Mike Conlon (Joel Kinnaman), son of Jimmy. And when Danny goes after Mike, who witnessed the murders, Jimmy is forced to kill his boss’ son, grab his own kid (from whom he’s been estranged for years) and – you guessed it – run all night until he figures out the standard “way to fix this.”
[Related: First Trailer for Run All Night]
The father-son relationship in Run All Night is very similar to one in another movie out now, Danny Collins; in that film, Bobby Cannavale has not seen his pop star father Al Pacino in years and disapproves of his lifestyle. In Run All Night, Mike grew up around his dad’s business and came to despise it. In both films, actions end up doing a hell of a lot more than words, although at least in Run All Night, Neeson puts himself in the line of fire to save his son’s life (in Danny Collins, Pacino just pays for Cannavale’s medical bills and his granddaughter’s tuition). But I don’t know if it’s the actor himself (who played RoboCop last year) or the way the character is written, because you never really feel for Kinnaman – he just plays it surly throughout the whole storyand exhibits little range beyond that.
Luckily you have Neeson to root for, and even though Conlon is the sixth or seventh variation on the aging, haunted action hero who comes back to rousing, ass-kicking life to protect his family or save a plane or stop a serial killer, the 62-year-old actor is still a watchable, empathetic presence who generates enough of an Everyman vibe to stop from completely becoming a street version of James Bond. Each time out with Collet-Serra has gotten a little better, and this time part of the reason is that Neeson gets to go head-to-head with the great Harris, who brings real sensitivity and soul-searching to Maguire, a Corleone-type figure who doesn’t want to bring drugs into the neighborhood and is looking to go legit before he retires.
Yes, the story sweeps the two men up in its surging motion so that they both switch gears rather abruptly (Jimmy seems to sober up and become fighting fit instantly, while Maguire turns into a cold angel of vengeance), and yes, there’s a lingering feeling that the whole mess could have been avoided if Jimmy had simply shot Danny Boy in the knee instead of the head. And at several points, you wonder what Vincent D’Onofrio (as a cop who’s been pursuing Jimmy for years), Genesis Rodriguez (as Mike’s wife, there to look troubled and scared) and Common (as a sleek, out-of-place assassin hired by Maguire) are even doing in the film, since their characters could easily be removed with another quick rewrite or two.
Those things nag at you, but you nevertheless enjoy the interplay between Neeson and Harris, the gripping sequence where Neeson and Kinnaman are pursued through a housing project by both the cops and the assassin (with the building on fire to boot!), and the gritty New York flavor of the whole thing as Collet-Serra’s camera airlifts you from out-of-the-way corners of the Manhattan waterfront to crummy little apartments next to the elevated train in Brooklyn. Then the movie comes full circle and resolves itself, and you leave – vaguely satisfied, haunted by the thought that you’ve seen Neeson do this many times before by now, and pretty much forgetting the movie you just watched. Until the next time he does it.
Run All Night is out in theaters Friday (March 13).