A film review by Craig J. Koban March 21, 2015


2015, R, 114 mins.


Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon  /  Joel Kinnaman as Mike Conlon  /  Ed Harris as Shawn Maguire  /  Génesis Rodríguez as Gabrielle  /  Vincent D'Onofrio as Detective Harding  /  Common as Mr. Price  /  Boyd Holbrook as Danny Maguire  /  Holt McCallany as Frank

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra  /  Written by Brad Ingelsby

RUN ALL NIGHT features another robust and dependably stalwart performance by Liam Neeson, the Irish star of such acclaimed dramatic films like SCHINDLER’S LIST and KINSEY that has ushered in a highly unlikely, but successful career rejuvenation as a middle-aged action hero.  

The character he plays in RUN ALL NIGHT is, in many ways, an extension of the world-weary souls that he played to great effect in last year's terribly underrated A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES and NON-STOP.  Those films – RUN ALL NIGHT included -  featured Neeson in satisfying kick ass mode, to be sure, but the characters he played seemed more broken down by life than your typical indestructible heroes that populate other similar genre efforts.  He portrayed deeply flawed men, ravaged by alcohol addictions and sordid pasts, that ended up doing what they need to do to help those in need…even if it meant damaging their already questionable reputations. 

It’s that level of character edge and grit that helps elevate Neeson’s action thrillers far above many others, even when he populates movies with questionable plot machinations and detours.  RUN ALL NIGHT reunites Neeson with his NON-STOP and UNKNOWN director Jaume Collet-Serra and it’s another relatively successful movie marriage this go around as well. RUN ALL NIGHT certainly has the requisite B-movie thrills and gnarly action beats that we’ve come to expect from Neeson’s recent resume, but it also contains subtle thematic layers that help ground our immersion in the story, even when it becomes somewhat convoluted and – in terms of its final 15 minutes – kind of head-scratchingly silly.  The director and star here seem more thankfully interested in character dynamics and relationships along with the subtext of parental neglect and regret.  Lesser genre films would ostensibly focus on obligatory action, but RUN ALL NIGHT has more compelling tricks up its sleeve. 



And, yes, Neeson seems to be inhabiting a version of the same type of character that he has previously played, but he yet again brings his quintessential gravel voice gravitas and striking presence to the table to remind us of just how effective he is in these roles.  In RUN ALL NIGHT he’s Jimmy Conlon, an ex-assassin for the Irish mafia that killed nearly twenty people while in his prime for his boss Shawn Maquire (a wonderful Ed Harris).  Realizing that his days of murdering his enemies are over, Jimmy has decided to semi-retire from the game and is now a down-on-his luck and penniless drunk that has alienated himself from just about everyone, including his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman), who works as a lowly limo driver.  One fateful night has Mike witnessing the murder of a pair of mobsters by Shawn's hot-tempered, drug dealing son Danny (Boyd Holbrook), which further leads to – perhaps a bit too conveniently – Jimmy swooping in to save his estranged son’s life…by killing Danny before he could kill Mike. 

Predictably, this leads to father and son going on the run, which is complicated by the fact that Jimmy’s best friend in the world happens to the father of the young man he murdered in self-defense.  Shawn, rather reluctantly, calls out a hit on not only Jimmy, but also on Mike and his entire family as well.  This all leads to a massive 12-hour manhunt of Jimmy and Mike by both Shawn’s goon squad and the police, led by Detective Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio), who has been trying to get Jimmy to confess to all of his past ill deeds for years.  Perhaps worse than being wanted by criminals and police alike is the ever-increasing hostility that Mike displays towards his father, despite the fact the he did save his life.  Mike’s decades-long level of outright resentment of his dad makes for one long and troubled evening on the run. 

The finest elements of RUN ALL NIGHT are its uncommonly strong relationships between all of its damaged characters.  Jimmy and Shawn have an undeniable level of loyal life-long companionship and commitment to one another.  When Jimmy does shoot and kill Shawn’s son he pays his pal and ex-employer the respect he deserves with a phone call and a matter of fact confession that he did the deed.  Jimmy equally pays Jimmy the courtesy of honesty in telling him that he will come after him and his family with “everything he has.”  Intriguingly, there are no clear-cut heroes and villains in RUN ALL NIGHT.  Jimmy is a good man, but has committed heinous crimes.  Shawn is a bad man that has legitimate grief over the death of his son and deep internal conflict with wanting to seek revenge on Jimmy.  When the film does feature some low-key, but bravura scenes between Harris and Neeson they’re atypically intense, seeing as you have the impression of two men that love and respect one another that don’t want to be in the respective positions they’re now in.  The screenplay, written by OUT OF THE FURNACE’s Brad Inglesby, has a real knack for getting into the headspaces of these hardened men locked in a mutual crisis of conscience. 

Of course, it certainly helps when you have actors of the stature of Neeson and Harris playing opposite of one another, the latter in particular having a field day relaying a fundamentally confused man that nonetheless wants quick and swift vengeance (in a lesser actor’s hands the role could have devolved into a one-note, blood thirsty protagonist).  The rest of the cast is uniformly good as well, including D’Onofrio in a somewhat formulaic role as the browbeaten cop and Boyd Hollbrook, who brings an unpredictable level of youthful menace to the proceedings.  Joel Kinnaman doesn’t quite seem to fit in here as well; he’s a decent and headstrong actor, but he’s saddled with playing second fiddle to Neeson throughout much of the film and gets somewhat lost in his co-star's much larger on-screen presence and shadow. 

There are other problems with RUN ALL NIGHT as well, such as a completely unnecessary bookended narrative structure (opening with a flashforward to the end of the film and then a flashback to the present) that’s awkwardly shoehorned in.  The film also is a bit too stylistically aggressive for its own good.  Gritty urban chase thrillers like this benefit from understated direction, but the film here uses some obtrusive head spinning camera moves that take us from location to location, zipping through the city like a GPS map on acid.  Then there’s the film’s final act, which could have satisfyingly built towards a level of strong emotional family tragedy and instead wallows in some truly tired action film formulas that will have many in the audience shaking their heads in frustration.  There was a point when RUN ALL NIGHT could have ended in fine form, but then continues on for several more minutes featuring more inane gun battles and foot chases. 

RUN ALL NIGHT is not Neeson’s best action thriller.  It doesn’t have the enjoyably trashy vibe of the first two TAKEN films or the gritty pulsation of unease and dread that typified A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES or NON-STOP.  Yet, RUN ALL NIGHT is a dependably enjoyable and kinetic Neeson outing that puts the stars ample assets on fine display. The film does boast some solid action, but I found myself more won over by the crucial personal stakes in the story between its doomed personas.  There’s a moral bleakness and ambiguity that washes over RUN ALL NIGHT that helps one forget about some of its problematic plot contrivances.  And when Neeson and Harris share screen time it’s positively intoxicating.  They always keep you invested in the material when the screenplay sometimes doesn’t follow suit.

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