The mercurial pairing of director Jaume Collet-Serra and the lumbering hulk of Liam Neeson, late of Non-Stop, is revived for Run All Night – a grimy, washed out, mobster thriller that wears its hardboiled clichés well, like a fine tailored suit.
The noir sensibility and use of New York as a fully fledged character will remind many of Neeson’s recent Walk Amongst the Tombstones, with some wondering, perhaps aloud, why he’s revisiting this territory so soon. But the aging shit kicker is better placed in this niche than other variants on the action genre, as his gruff antihero persona and world weary puss are a perfect bit for the moral dystopia that frames such stories. In a nuanced age we may ask why the creaky mobster code, that demands violence in kind for any vested on the family of its multiple murderer bosses goes unchecked, particularly when the mitigating circumstances are as clear cut as Run All Night’s, but psychological intrigue grafted onto underlining simplicity (murder, revenge!) is one of genre’s great pleasures. Collet-Serra’s film establishes its central relationships with great economy then digs deep into a filthy pit of moral ambiguity. His movie gets its hands dirty.
Of course this would all be for naught if the direction and performances weren’t up to scratch. The former’s energetic, kinetic, occasionally frenzied (with editing that’s just the right side of infuriating). But it’s also fussy, with virtual swoops across Manhattan that feel like showboating when a simple dissolve would do. Fortunately the latter is the movie’s strength. Few do pained and cankerous like Ed Harris, and he’s great here as the mob boss with the degenerate son who nevertheless feels obligated to avenge him when old friend and enforcer Neeson kills the obnoxious, drug-addled dunce to save his own loin fruit; a non-violent, estranged from killer Dad family man with a pregnant wife and two central casting kids. It’s just a pity the movie doesn’t do more with dichotomy or the fall out from it, with the audience invited to reflect on the set up’s many ironies rather than the filmmaker deigning to make comments in the margin.
Neeson, for his part, gives his now standard turn: a man with a past given a chance to redeem himself with judicious amounts of crowd-pleasing violence. Perhaps it’s unfair to say the Northern Irish hardman could phone in this performance from anywhere in the world, as he does it so well, but one can understand those that criticize the actor for repeating himself, with the inevitable diminishing effect at the box office.
Still, Run All Night deserves to be seen as more than just another Liam Neeson early-year actioner. It’s a nasty movie with great pace and a strong spine thanks to those two alchemic leads. If you like your movies bleak and bitter, this will do very nicely.