Although he’d already done HOUSE OF WAX and GOAL II: LIVING THE DREAM, it was ORPHAN that brought director Jaume Collet-Serra to my attention. I gotta admire a director whose movie I go to thinking I’m gonna be all ironical on it and then it defeats me with its audacity and genuine cleverness. So far that’s the height of his output, but I keep going back.
I guess I’d be watching them anyway, because his ORPHAN follow up has been three Liam Neeson vehicles in a row. UNKNOWN was a somewhat forgettable twisty thriller with some good touches here and there. Apparently I forgot to even post a review of it, but the part I remember liking best was some awkwardness between Neeson and Diane Kruger where they laugh because they’re in her small apartment and hear sex noises from next door, and that turns out to be set-up that her walls are thin enough for him to throw a guy through. NON-STOP was more my speed, a fun take on a confined-location-high-concept with some pretty interesting political subtext. Now the third one, RUN ALL NIGHT, takes the collaboration in a different direction. There’s less emphasis on the thrillery gimmicks and more on the character drama.
Oh, hey, this might explain it: it’s a screenplay by Brad Ingelsby, the guy that wrote OUT OF THE FURNACE. That’s another movie that uses badass genre elements but is more interested in exploring relationships than in satisfying expectations. (Though this one does have shootouts and car crashes.)
Please allow me a few paragraphs to wave a finger of shame at people who lazily say this is just a rehash of TAKEN. It is true that both movies star Liam Neeson. I can’t deny that one. But in TAKEN Neeson plays a very successful freelance security consultant who is trying to fix his relationship with his ex-wife, and then has to go to Europe to rescue his teenage daughter from sex slavery. His character Jimmy Conlon in RUN ALL NIGHT is a completely washed up alcoholic loser introduced waking up at a bar and being told he farted in his sleep. He was once a feared hitman working for his old friend Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), but now he’s kind of a pathetic hanger-on who has to ask Shawn’s douchey son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) for a loan and swallow his pride when he makes him do odd jobs.
Jimmy ends up having to kill Danny to save his own estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman from the ROBOCOP remake). So the movie is about him trying to protect this son who wants nothing to do with him from a revenge-seeking Maguire. It’s almost like it’s OUT FOR JUSTICE in reverse. OUT FROM JUSTICE.
Meanwhile he has to dodge a detective (Vincent D’Onofrio) who’s been trying to bust him for years, and also deal with the immense shame he feels over all the murders he’s committed. (A body count which, based on the figures we hear, must’ve just about doubled over the course of the movie.)
In my opinion that’s pretty different from TAKEN. He’s on a different side of the law and a different station in life. Yes, he still wears a leather jacket, but also a green army type one or a plaid shirt. Instead of a dependent teenage daughter who’s a little embarrassed of him he has an adult son with a wife (Genesis Rodriguez) and two kids and two jobs who hates his guts and shut him out of his life years ago. And the son stays in New York, doesn’t go to a foreign country, and is not kidnapped.
You know what, were you thinking of A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES? That’s the one where Neeson is an alcoholic at the beginning. And like RUN ALL NIGHT it has Boyd Holbrook as a weaselly guy related to a scary gangster who gets him into a mess. And that one has a smart young African American kid who he looks out for, a little bit like this kid Legs (Aubrey Joseph) who his son looks after in this one.
Yeah, I think that’s what you meant. Otherwise I’m afraid I’m gonna have to assign you to rewatch both this one and TAKEN before expressing opinions on them. I take this refusal to notice vast differences between action movies to be a sign of disrespect toward the genre and my lifestyle as an Action Aficionado (also the name of my new magazine, coming soon, I wish).
As in ROBOCOP, I enjoy Kinnaman’s presence and deep voice here. He plays a guy who apparently failed as a boxer but spends his days training kids and his nights working as a limo driver to pay the bills. He’s still angry for his dad not being there for him growing up, but ironically he’s one of those movie fathers who seems to just get two minutes a day to be sweet with his kids and listen to their excited chatter while changing into his work clothes. Mom has to do all the actual parenting and time-spending.
The boxing background explains why he can handle himself when attacked, but is never used as an excuse for a big fight scene. Some might appreciate that as realism or restraint, but of course I think action is not shameful so I see it as a wasted opportunity. There are some pretty good action setups, like when they’re trapped in a huge building in the projects with the power out and both a SWAT team and an elite assassin (Academy Award winner and former hat collector Common) gunning for them. They get to parkour down some balconies and sneak around in the dark. But unfortunately it’s hard to get excited about any of the action because it’s mostly the same old TAKEN style post-action we’ve come to expect that’s mostly shaky and close up. I guess I can at least give a few points to the final shoot out, which uses some slow motion and a cool gun POV shot (used in the trailer, of course).
But for me the movie mostly overcomes that weakness by truly being about the relationships between the old friends and the father and son, not just faking it. From the trailer you know that Harris is the bad guy, and you get the idea that they used to know each other, but it’s more than that. We first learn that when Jimmy is roped into playing Santa at the Maguire family Christmas party and makes a drunken spectacle in front of the kids. I expected the big bad gang boss to come down hard on him, instead he has his men make him a sandwich and give him a bed to sleep in. He really tries to take care of him.
So when Jimmy kills Shawn’s son the first thing he does is call Shawn. Not to apologize, even, because for once it was a justified killing. He just knows he has to inform him and face the consequences. I guess it’s the same as JOHN WICK in that one sense: it’s a fated thing, everybody knows what has to happen here. You killed my son, so I must try to kill your son, it’s nothing personal here, we all know the rules.
I like the scene where Mike finds out that Jimmy secretly watched his boxing matches back in the day. On one hand he’s learning that his father really did think about him after he left, and therefore must’ve really believed that he was improving his life by abandoning him. On the other hand he’s being kind of a dick telling him what was wrong with his boxing. So it’s not all hugs and forgiveness.
Some of these revelations from the past are interesting, but I’m more into the things that are only implied. Common plays a no-nonsense killer who looks like a Nation of Islam guy and works like a Terminator. When Shawn calls to offer him the gig he says “I’d kill that motherfucker for free!” It’s the only joy he ever shows. Ramadan came early. Unless I missed something we never get any clues about what specifically is between these two. But Common hates his guts. That’s enough for me.
(It might just be because he makes the bar smell like farts.)
I didn’t know Nick Nolte was gonna show up briefly as Jimmy’s brother. He’s as froggy and grumbly as in WARRIOR but now kinda chubby and with a crazy beard. Who knows what this guy’s been through, but of the two brothers he’s the one with his head on straight! He’s the one that’s been taking care of their mom, and he thinks Mike should trust his dad even less than he already does.
It’s those character moments and the emotional stuff that works best. Maybe the movie’s strengths and weaknesses are best summed up by this MAJOR SPOILER: the final showdown between Jimmy and Shawn is a dull and generic gun fight in a dark train yard, but after Jimmy shoots Shawn he gently cradles him in his arms as he dies. They mention several times in the movie that they’re going to “cross the line together,” which I guess didn’t mean Romeo and Juliet, Thelma and Louise or Reservoir Dog style, it turns out. Just that they’ll be sure to be there for each other whenever it happens. For me the action part is rote but the melodrama is very effective.
Have you guys ever noticed that Neeson’s nose and forehead look really weird in profile, like he was carved out of wood? I think that might be his secret. If his movies start to get boring you just stare at that. Toward the end I felt like I was pretty done with this one, but suddenly I realized I was more invested in these characters than I realized, because I was genuinely moved by father and son facing having to say goodbye to each other. It doesn’t hurt that I have baggage with my own father, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself caring about this type of shit in one of these Collet-Serre/Neeson joints. Not what I expected.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.