All hail Liam Neeson. If anyone should be allowed to rest on his laurels, it’s this veteran actor, who has earned accolades for prestige dramas and made a near-seamless transition over to leading-man action hero at this late stage in his career. But in the unexpectedly excellent Run All Night, the star isn’t content to play another Taken-style hero with “a very particular set of skills.” Instead, he subverts that image, playing former mob assassin Jimmy as a boozy bad seed, put out to pasture by his associates and scorned by all, especially his estranged son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman).
Jimmy is not a good guy, and Neeson never tries to redeem him in our eyes. Here, the actor seems older, sadder, more defeated – his shoulders droop like those of a man sinking into the Earth under the weight of his sins, and his run is ungainly enough to resemble a wounded animal’s. There’s a self-loathing in his eyes and a jaw sagging open just enough to paint Jimmy as a dead man walking. Neeson’s physical inhabitation of the character is beyond any performance we’ve seen to date in his action renaissance.
Luckily, Run All Night is exactly the kind of movie that deserves such commitment. As directed by the masterful Jaume Collet-Sera, this is a thriller with ambitions, a neo-noir action-drama with nifty camera shots that zip around the city to envision it as a living, breathing network of rain-slick streets and smoky bars, of hardened men making hard decisions. Brilliantly, Collet-Serra takes a standard yarn and sets it within a dark, grim and endlessly fascinating world, complete with unnervingly evil assassins, corrupt cops, criminal blood ties and a sweeping sense of tragedy. This isn’t Taken or Unknown – for Neeson, it’s something much leaner, meaner and more interesting.
Of course, Collet-Serra still executes action with the eye of a seasoned pro. When Jimmy’s son is targeted by Danny (Boyd Holbrook), the son of kingpin Shawn (Ed Harris), Jimmy has no choice but to kill him and save his boy – despite owing his life and career to Shawn, a lifelong friend. Filled with regret and thirsting for revenge, Shawn puts a hit out on Jimmy and Michael. Desperate to make sure that his son isn’t his last victim, Jimmy finds himself taking on the entire New York criminal underworld. That setup yields some truly exhilarating sequences, from an almost comical scene of Jimmy chasing a cop car through red lights in the heart of the city to an ingeniously plotted shootout in thick woods. In a genre crowded by cliches, Run All Night at least does its job well.
The screenplay isn’t flawless – the entire film hangs on a huge coincidence that some may have trouble swallowing, and the pic loses a bit of steam in its second half. But the actors are all terrific, particularly Neeson and Harris as two haunted men forced to live with the ghosts of their past. And with Collet-Serra committed to making this a darker, bleaker and much more absorbing affair than it needed to be, there’s a lot to like about Run All Night. Don’t dismiss it as another Neeson action bargain-binner, or you’ll miss out on a tight, stylish and kinetic crime thriller that’s much better than it had any right to be.
As expected, Warner Bros.’ 1080p transfer is top-of-the-line, communicating lush shadow and terrific depth throughout. The image clarity is damn near flawless, with a balance between the evocative cinematography (from Martin Ruhe) and precise detail that pays off nicely to create a crisp, absorbing look. The huge victory here is the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack, a bruising behemoth of a track that’s unusually dynamic for a Neeson thriller. Gunshots are totally jarring, cars screech along roads with enough mechanical anguish to raise hairs and even the sounds of fists crunching bone are exceptionally wince-inducing. It’s a flawless audio package that draws you into Run All Night‘s atmospheric world. And let’s not forget Junkie XL’s killer score, which is terrifically implemented and sticks with you long after the credits roll.
The weak link on the Blu-Ray release is the array of extras, which is minimal:
- Shoot All Night
- Liam Neeson: Action All Night
- Deleted Scenes
Neither featurette is particularly insightful. As the title would suggest, “Shoot All Night” looks at Collet-Serra’s production in New York and centers on the challenges of waiting until nightfall to shoot almost every scene in the film. “Liam Neeson: Action All Night” is essentially a six-minute round of applause for the star delivered by the rest of the cast and crew. There’s a whole 16 minutes of deleted scenes, none of which really alter your understanding of the film but do add a little depth to some of the relationships. In the interest of keeping things tight, Collet-Serra made the right calls.
All in all, Run All Night is an exceptional entry in Neeson’s action-man period. A deftly executed crime noir with stylish direction and an atypically complex role for its star, the film is one of those genre affairs that aims higher than it needs to and is all the better for that. It also brings me one step closer to trusting Neeson again after Taken 3 – that will take some time, but this is a big move in the right direction, and I applaud him for it.
Inventively shot and deftly executed, Run All Night is an ambitious neo-noir thriller that represents a high-water mark in Liam Neeson's recent spree of action-hero vehicles.