Liam Neeson is out punching, shooting and making threats again in the actor’s latest collaboration with Jaume Collet-Serra after Unknown and Non-Stop. From the trailers, Night seems focused on ridding the silliness and implausibility of the two aforementioned flicks, but problems in the execution prevents the change from being embraceable.
In another exploration of family bond in this violent world, writer Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace) follows the lives of hit man Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) and his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman) when the latter is marked for death by Brooklyn’s most ruthless gang. The title refers to what the two will be doing and how long it will take them to get out of town when right behind them are a detective who has hunted Jimmy day and night (Vincent D’Onofrio), a professional killer (Common), corrupt cops and the gang leader (Ed Harris).
A manhunt from the mob, life-for-life/son-for-son, estranged father, family in danger and the quintessential nighttime New York setting – imagine one’s surprise upon finding out who is directing Neeson and crew within this canvas of seriousness and emotional depth. The absence of Collet-Serra’s sanitized aesthetics, not to mention the excessively choreographed beats in story and action, seen in the amnesiac-in-Europe trip and high-flying terror adventure is Run All Night’s finest gift to its audience. If only the man knows to put a lid on his stylistic tendencies…
“Cool” is definitely the word to describe those Google Maps-like transitions between locations, yet all they do is diminish the realism value at Run All Night’s core. The effect is made even worse through frenzied editing and hectic photography from Martin Ruhe that try too hard to provide rawness into the film and its world. As seen in American Gangster, The Drop or even more recently A Most Violent Year, New York’s seedy atmosphere and happenings need not fanciness to be successfully portrayed. The film’s grittiness feels fabricated in the end, rendering Night an orchestrated effort similar to Unknown or Non-Stop despite the R-rating and a more grounded story.
The cast is as solid as can be, with Neeson perhaps in his best form post-Taken. The best moments have to be when he and Harris share the screen, both actors are so convincing as boss-apprentice, mentor-friend, and, à la Road to Perdition, the implied father-son relationship. Kinnaman has more ground here to display his acting chops than RoboCop, unfortunately in Night the spotlight is on and designed for Neeson. Unlike the film’s style, the actors have control over their characters that enable the film’s human aspect to shine through… until Ingelsby’s well-telegraphed script and the haphazard cutting kick in, that is.
Think of Run All Night as an average prime-time boxing match: two recognizable fighters, an elaborate venue, but not all that exciting fighting. Some will be disappointed should they consider the whole game, though undoubtedly there are those who will consider their time well-spent just because their favorite boxer is in the ring.