Run All Night
Well, it’s better than TakThreeN, so…
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What to Expect
Oh Liam, Liam, Liam! What are we to do with you?
When Neeson, who’s starred in some of the most talent-worthy films we’ve seen of late, decided to take on what would later go on to be the commercially successful Taken (which would later become a middling franchise, spawning two atrocious sequels after), nobody knew of the rage that it would later turn into. It is, of course, no surprise thus that there would be other studios and makers looking for a successful headlong with Neeson as the trump card. The one filmmaker who’s successfully been able to use Neeson’s prowess and image to his advantage would probably be Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, who’s basically been on a roll with Unknown and Non-Stop having been on his list before he would go on to make his third Neeson-featuring action thriller.
Which, of course, is Run All Night.
Not that anyone’s complaining, but we’d probably be aware of the template of Collet-Serra’s Neeson-starrers. You’ve got the protagonist, who’s in search of something sinister that has to mandatorily involve him. There’s the clues and the necessary supporting female (Kruger in Unknown; Moore in Non-Stop). And to top it all there’s the twist-laden payoff, featuring antagonists you wouldn’t know coming. While Unknown was quite the decent psychological actioner it wanted to be, Non-Stop didn’t quite make the cut – mostly due to the climax, which – well – ruined everything.
All of that brings us to this film. And, to give it some credit, it actually looks quite different from the usual crop of this fare-type. Plus, it doesn’t look all that bad, especially putting the extremely daft Taken 3. Or TakThreeN. Really, call it whatever you want to, the fact that it’s such an atrocious piece-of-turd won’t change.
What’s it About?
An aging hitman (Neeson) and his estranged son (Kinnaman) get caught up in a whirlwind night, where the former pulls all stops to protect the latter from a war that gets progressively more personal than any of them thought they were in for.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
One of the most credible virtues of Collet-Serra is the way he’s successfully been able to use Neeson’s post-Taken image in some of the most interesting character sketches within the mainstream action-movie template. Within the last two films featuring the actor, the movie does manage to keep you on the hook more often than not – mostly due to how swift and charismatic his characters have been. What Collet-Serra and writer Brad Inglesby (Out of the Furnace) do in collaboration here is something slightly different. We’re introduced to a Neeson who’s extremely vulnerable and messed up in more ways than one – an element missing from most of the action films he’s starred in of late.
Oh, but wait. They’ve all been those terribly distasteful sequels of Taken.
While the story is quite the old-fashioned race-against-the-clock-of-revenge trope, it consists of some commendable character building. Aside from Neeson, there’s Joel Kinnaman’s (RoboCop) Mike and Ed Harris’ (Pain & Gain) Shawn (Sean?) who have justifiable motive for their actions, and none of the primary characters are treated with any manipulatively antagonistic button-pushing. Reminiscent of the detailing in characters the audience came to witness in the middling A Walk Among the Tombstones, the movie doesn’t shy away from having long dialogue driven pauses in the middle of two consecutive set-pieces, which builds up to what the movie really goes for.
The problem with this film – as with most mainstream action films – is how safe it is. Robert Frost would be displeased with the makers, if you know what I mean. There are almost a ton of plot devices that give us a heightened sense of déjà vu (mob ties gone sour, the one-man-army trick, the “stronger” antagonistic figure et al). To top it all, there are technically two climaxes – the latter of which feels a few minutes too long, dragging irritably on for deliberate dramatic effect. The reason the second climax falters isn’t because the first culmination is a decoy; it’s that there’s a jarringly loose end everyone’s able to see, waiting to be tied. Additionally, the shining bling-shots of the climactic set-piece are partly given away in the trailer – and if the discerning audiences are to note, they’d have seen that particular set-piece a long way coming.
But let’s give the movie the credit it deserves. Martin Ruhe (The American) gives the movie some splendid visual aid – except for when there’s stock footage of the Times Square used, which I’m going to call out on for how relatively shoddy it looks through its abrupt inclusion in the film. Craig McKay’s (The Silence of the Lambs) edit is mostly solid, except for a few slip-ups which may or may not have been to cover up faults during production. The production design adds a ton of slickness whilst keeping the seedy atmosphere alive. Producer-engineer Junkie XL makes a functional score that touches quite a few highs. And then there’s the action set-pieces, which are surprisingly edge-of-the-seat. Each set-piece is choreographed keeping in mind some human realism, allowing for surges of unpredictability within them. Our protagonist is capable of making slip-ups through the process of every micro-battle he performs. Some slip-ups are minor, and some major, leading – of course – to significant blows.
To Perform or Not to Perform
It’s a bit too obvious that the character was built upon keeping Neeson well in mind, because he fits in on a fantastic performative level. Joel Kinnaman has a one-note face through the series of the events that unfold in the film, however, one doesn’t exactly mind him. Ed Harris goes head-on with the restraint his role provides, and succeeds. Boyd Holbrook (A Walk Among the Tombstones) is efficient for his character’s runtime and does the exact job he’s meant to. Common (Selma) is hilariously stereotypical in his donning of the one-note-scary-as-shit antagonist – but that may probably not be his fault. It’s just sad that he’s much more than he’s able to flesh out here. Vincent D’Onofrio (The Judge) and Holt McCallany (television’s Lights Out) don’t exactly get performative pieces that match their talents by a mile and a half, but they make do with whatever they can.
Jaume Collet-Serra ditches the narrative party trick in favor of a comparatively old-fashioned narrative in the mainstream action-thriller stratosphere – and the movie surprisingly works more than it doesn’t. Riddled with stereotypical tropes and a double-climax that lengthens the movie a considerably irritable notch, Run All Night is not perfect or different. It, however, works on character building, some passable atmosphere and the commendably executed edge-of-the-seat action set-pieces, tilting it enough toward the harmless one-time watch it actually is.
Compare that with TakThreeN (yes, that’s me calling a whole lot o’ bull on the pseudo-cool titling of that atrocious film we were treated with this January), and you’ve got a relatively Award-worthy film in your hands as you watch it. That’s all I gotta say.
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