After the turgid slop-job that was January’s Tak3n, my allegiance to Ol’ Man Asskicker Neeson was waning. He’s like a hamburger joint you used to depend on, but then the restaurant kept bringing on new chefs and fancying up the menu, and it just hasn’t been as good since.
So when I slumped down for Run All Night, whose mid-March release was a sign of trouble, I had three questions to present to the film.
1. Will the action scenes be coherent? My eyes can no longer take the abuse of spastically edited fight scenes with piss-poor choreography shot in infuriating close-ups. You hear me, Oliver Megaton?
2. Will it earn its R-rating? Liam’s been in PG-13 purgatory for a while (save for the decent, but instantly forgettable A Walk Amongst the Tombstones), and it’d be nice to see some explosive exit wounds and hear him say “fuck” in that beautiful brogue.
3. Will my dad like it? Ever since Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, and Mel Gibson died, he’s been hard to please.
I’m happy to report that the answers are yes, yes (not hard, but R enough), and yes.
In his third and arguably best collaboration so far with director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop), Neeson proves why comfort zones are a good thing. He plays Jimmy Conlon, a former hitman for the Irish mob (nicknamed “The Gravedigger”), and he’s a sloppy drunk, but you probably assumed that from his name. You can also assume he’s gonna have to sober up and shoot people. And you can bet your arse you’ll hear The Pogues.
When we meet Jimmy (aside from a prologue that I won’t mention, and wish wasn’t there), he’s far past his gravedigging prime. Retired, living in a shanty with no heat, and haunted by the faces he’s snuffed, he bides his time slugging whiskey and doing odd jobs (such as playing a dick-joke-slurring Santa) for his ol’ mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris, digging his spurs and steely eyes into the role like it’s a primal Sam Shepard piece).
Both of the men have sons. Sometimes the only words they speak are, “My son…” Jimmy’s got the good one. He’s named Mike (Joel Kinnaman, better as a Neeson spawn than a Robocop), and he’s a failed boxer turned limo driver (turned altruistic Big Brother) who resents his ol’ pappy for being a deadbeat dad and digging all those graves.
Maguire’s kid Danny (Boyd Holbrook, a face you could never tire of punching) is another story. He’s a bad seed who attempts to taint dad’s mob business by bartering a heroin deal with Albanians. And it always goes south with Albanians in action films. Sorry, Albanians.
Of all the limos those Albanians could have taken to their fateful drug deal with dickhead Danny, they just had to get into the one driven by Liam Neeson’s son. And when Mike witnesses Danny murdering those Albanians, it doesn’t matter to the coke-addled Son of Harris that Mike was his childhood mob-kid friend. So he does what every stupid person does. He tries to kill Liam Neeson’s kid and frame him for the Albanian deal. As the trailer already revealed, gravedigging Jimmy kills Shawn Maguire’s kid, so Shawn’s gonna go after him with everything he’s got. That everything would be: scores of pale and pudgy thugs, a couple of crooked cops, and Common as a super-hitman Mr. Price.
In this movie world of MEN and FATHERS and SONS, it’s refreshing when characters adhere to a simple, inflexible code of MANLINESS. Somebody kills your boy? You kill that someone and everyone that someone ever met, even when you know your boy was rotten. With 16 hours to go until the events of that unfortunate foreshadowing prologue, Jimmy has to protect his Good Son through one breakneck chase and fight scene after another, and inevitably reconcile their deep-seated estrangement.
It’s nothing new, but mercy, the movie cooks with gas when it could have wimped out with an electric stove. It moves from one tightly wound scenario to another with an urgency that doesn’t quite leave you breathless, but never bores. And to snag the joke from They Came Together, New York City really is a character in this flick. Smartly lensed by Martin Ruhe (Control, The American), we race from gritty alleyway foot chases to gritty train yard showdowns at dusk, from an implausible but slam-bang car chase down Jamaica Avenue to a narrow escape through a hockey game at Madison Square Garden. There’s also a chase though burning projects and a minor subway chase (which plays like an Adderalled Le Samourai) that illuminate what most New York action pictures have been missing: actually being shot in New York. As for those swooping Google Maps overhead shots that whisk us from one location to another? They don’t distract, but somebody owes Neveldine/Taylor a check.
Did I mention we also get Vincent D’Onofrio as the “one good cop” who’s been chasing “the gravedigger” for decades? Or that Bruce McGill shows up as Harris’ right-hand man? Or that Harris and Neeson share some heated exchanges that will warm the cockles of the hearts of all Heat fans?
I do have some bones to pick with this pulpy flick. It doesn’t stick the landing, and it could stand to lose a few pounds of sub-plot and character padding. The lowest and fattest point happens when an unbilled Nick Nolte (looking and sounding like he ate five Tom Waitses) shows up to offer a pointless backstory that further drives the wedge between the estranged father and son. It’s one of those “wait, it’s not what you think” bad luck moments in a rom-com, and it doesn’t belong.
But in the end, it’s good to have your favorite hamburger back. And your dad will love it.