The “Liam Neeson, Action Star” express keeps rolling on with Run All Night, a hard-boiled crime thriller that’s grittier and heavier in theme than most of the actor’s recent films not named The Grey. Being darker doesn’t equate to being better, however, and Run All Night proves to be an overly generic mob story that’s not exciting enough to work as an action film and not interesting enough to succeed as a drama.
Those hoping for Taken 7 might be disappointed. For most of this film’s running time, Neeson is no indestructible superman, but rather a guilt-riddled hitman named Jimmy Conlon who has lost his taste for killing but still pals around with lifelong friend Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), a local mob boss trying to go straight in his later years. Those happy this isn’t Taken 7 don’t want to get too excited by those character descriptions — the roles are written and played exactly as you’d imagine without a hint of surprise. These are stock gangster-movie parts played by great actors who don’t have much left to prove and are largely just going through the motions. Both have issues with their kids: Jimmy’s son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) won’t acknowledge him and Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is a huge asshole. When Mike witnesses a murder that Danny commits, Jimmy ends up killing the latter to protect his own kin. Despite the fact that Shawn knows the whole mess is entirely his dumbass kid’s fault — he makes note of what a colossal fuck-up he is even before shit starts going down! — he declares war on both Jimmy and his son, resulting in a battle that spills out across New York over one night.
I’m honestly not sure who this movie is made for. Like I said, those looking for Taken-esque, “Neeson fights his way through 50 bad guys” type shenanigans are going to find themselves disappointed by Run All Night‘s largely muted action. There’s an okay car chase, a dull woods shoot-out and a sequence where the two Conlons have to escape a housing project surrounded by both cops and mob guys, but none of it proves terribly exhilarating, certainly not in a world where John Wick now exists. At one point in the film’s second half Neeson finally does get to go full Liam Neesons and blow through a bar of Irish mobsters, but, by that point, the scene feels almost out of place — a tacked-on bit of badassery that’s there just to pay lip service to those who wanted a full movie of it. And maybe name-dropping Wick isn’t fair, as director Jaume Collet-Serra, who Neeson worked with previously on Non-Stop and Unknown, clearly never intended for Run All Night to be that type of hyper-stylized action film. Okay, fine … but it also wouldn’t compare favorably to any better-than-decent Irish mob drama you’ve ever seen, as its “sins of the father” plotting feels tired and everyone seems to be playing the blandest version of their character imaginable. So those hoping for something a bit more tangible, a movie with real meat on its bones like the excellent The Grey, are going to walk away disappointed as well.
The film’s got other problems too. There very title indicates Run All Night should be a ticking-clock film, yet Collet-Serra fails to use the passing of time to build any tension. The hard-boiled dialogue comes out corny instead of cool. (Characters punctuate their sentences by naming the person they’re talking to way too much in this movie. Trust me, Jimmy. Shawn knows that he’s Shawn. You don’t have to keep telling him) There’s also one grossly out of place character. Common plays a supposedly super-efficient hitman named Mr. Price who Shawn contracts to take out Jimmy. Mr. Price offers to kill Jimmy for free, so there’s obviously some bad blood between the two, but whatever that back-story is, it’s dropped immediately after being teased. Mr. Price dresses all neat and spiffy, and at first I had him pegged as a dime-store version of The Wire‘s Brother Mouzone. But you’d never find Mouzone fumbling around in housing-project stairwells while wearing a green-glowing night-vision apparatus over one eye. The whole character stands in stark contrast to the rest of the film’s throwback gangster-movie vibe.
Collet-Serra tries to give Run All Night scope by filming it in New York and having the camera whoosh through the sky from one location to the next, but the film isn’t layered enough to support that kind of epic vision. It also commits the cardinal sin of wasting Bruce McGill, stuffing him into a background part with barely any lines. I could maybe forgive all the rest of this, but I certainly cannot stand for wasting Bruce McGill. Ultimately, Run All Night contributes little more than padding to the Liam Neeson action-film canon. Sure, at least it’s not another Taken retread, but it is something that might be even worse — wholly forgettable.