After awards season apparently comes ‘generic action thriller’ season, and in Run All Night we see Liam Neeson starring in his second this year (following the abysmal Taken 3 last month). This brings his total up to an impressive four in the space of two years (we also saw him last year in the distinctly forgettable Non-Stop and only slightly better Walk Among the Tombstones), so I think we can safely say Neeson has found himself typecast – to the point where it feels nigh on laughable.
He is at least very good at playing the gruff, aging alcoholic with interpersonal issues. And let’s not forget certain other Hollywood legends gained their reputation largely by taking advantage of similar trends in their time (ahem, Clint Eastwood). Neeson’s recent films aren’t so much completely terrible as they are just… routinely formulaic. Though Run All Night does at least acknowledge this formula and, to an extent, feels almost like a self-referential parody both of its own genre and its lead actor’s recent career.
This is apparent from the film’s opening shot; one of Neeson’s character lying on his back, bullet hole in his gut, voiceover saying, “I’ve done a lot of terrible things in my life…” It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume he’s referring not only to the personal history of former hitman Jimmy Conlon, the character he plays here, but also his own recent history as an actor. Certain other key lines in the script can’t possibly have been put in there without at least a little hint of a tongue-in-cheek smirk from the writers.
Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra deserves credit for adding an (almost) original style to the movie that makes it an easily watchable experience, if not anything special. The camera often pans up and travels over the city’s skyline, taking you seamlessly from one storyline event to another happening elsewhere at that moment, which feels more involving than a simple cutting technique. It also gives the distinct impression that this film is at least trying hard to stand out in an over-saturated genre.
This being the third of Collet-Serra’s ‘Neeson trilogy’ of sorts (the director worked with him on Non-Stop as well as 2011’s Unknown), it’s safe to assume he probably plans it to be his last, just as Neeson himself goes through the movie with a somewhat tired expression that tells you he’d like to retire from this type of job himself. “One night”, he tells his estranged son, “trust me for one more night, and then you’ll never have to hear from me again”.
He also forms an uneasy relationship with a police chief over the course of the film, part of which involves a promise from Conlon that he’ll hand himself in once and for all, after he’s taken care of his final piece of ‘business’ (involving, of course, protecting his family from people that want to kill them).
For what it’s worth, I enjoyed that this movie does not go out of its way to paint Neeson as the hero; he is, in fact, arguably more of a villain on this occasion. The usual justification for his actions – the familiar ‘protect your family at all costs’ angle – is turned on its head to an extent, presenting the question: what if protecting your own family means taking away the beloved relatives of someone else? Are your desperate actions still, in that case, so justified? How do you decide if your family is more important than theirs? Such questions the film is ultimately happy to leave you with, as it goes about its business of getting to a rather predictable resolution.
It does indeed feel like Neeson as an actor is using this movie to, in a sense, ‘get his affairs in order’ before attempting to walk away from the dark, morally grey reputation his recent career has given him. If it seems I’ve made a major point of such an indirect theme in this review, it is only because I believe it’s the most interesting thing about the movie. Those who don’t really care will probably see it for the same reasons as they watched Neeson’s previous roles in similarly marketed films. Which is fine; it is at least adept at being that and won’t disappoint if your expectations are that way inclined. But neither should the fact I’ve had to revert to the term ‘at least’ numerous times fill you with high hopes if you’re looking for anything more than what the trailer promises.
There are a few nice components here to make the experience a somewhat bearable, bordering on enjoyable trip to the movies. Is it one of the best of Neeson’s numerous action thriller stints? Yes, though unfortunately, that isn’t saying much.
6 / 10