At times “Run All Night” feels like a Greatest Hits mash-up of Liam Neeson characters and situations from previous Neeson actioners.
(SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THESE OTHER LIAM NEESON MOVIES, AND IF YOU HAVEN’T, WHY NOT?!?)
Like Bill Marks in “Non-Stop,” Neeson’s Jimmy Conlon is a New York-based alcoholic who is on a career downswing and long ago lost his family.
Like Bryan Mills in the “Taken” movies, Jimmy will stop at nothing to protect his family, and he is a master of the chilling phone call in which he tells his adversary he’s coming for him.
Like Ottway in “The Grey,” Jimmy was once married, but the love of his life is dead and gone.
And like all of the aforementioned characters, Jimmy finds himself facing nearly insurmountable odds. He’s far outnumbered by his foes, he sustains numerous injuries during the course of his battles and it seems almost certain he won’t get out of this movie alive.
At 62, Neeson is arguably the baddest tough guy in all of movie-dom (I’d say the 60-year-old Denzel Washington is his main competition), and even though it feels as if we’ve seen this movie before, “Run All Night” is a stylish and kinetic thriller, with Neeson at his gritty, world-weary best, some of the coolest camera moves in recent memory and a Hall of Fame villain in the great Ed Harris.
Jimmy, once the most feared hit man in the New York underworld (the tabloids called him “the Gravedigger”), is now a broken-down, booze-soaked joke, allowed to hang around only because of his lifelong friendship with Brooklyn mob boss Shawn Maguire (Harris, in a perfectly modulated performance).
Shawn is trying to groom his son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) to take over the family businesses, legit and otherwise, but Danny is an impulsive, drug-addicted hothead who’s mixed up with a gang of ruthless Albanian thugs, against his father’s commands.
Jimmy’s son Mike (Joel Kinnaman), on the other hand, is a solid guy: a good husband and father who trains inner-city kids at the local boxing gym and works nights as a limo driver to help make ends meet. Mike also wants nothing to do with his father; they haven’t spoken in five years.
When Mike happens to witness Danny gunning down one of the Albanian gangsters, relationships change with the crack of a gunshot. Shawn calmly informs Jimmy that Shawn and his men are coming after Mike and his family — and that after Jimmy watches his son die, Shawn will kill Jimmy as well.
From that moment, it’s a 16-hour marathon, with Mike reluctantly teaming up with his father to avoid the army of thugs trying to kill them, as well as the scores of cops who believe Jimmy and Mike have committed murder.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who previously teamed with Neeson for “Non-Stop” and “Unknown”) employs some nifty camera moves, as the action zips back and forth from Manhattan to various neighborhoods.
An extended sequence shot in the projects is expertly choreographed. A car chase becomes almost darkly funny when a civilian car is chasing a squad car with its lights flashing. The hand-to-hand fight scenes are brutally effective. A Rangers-Devils game at Madison Square Garden becomes the setting for an innovative escape scene.
There’s also an unbilled cameo that can only leave one chuckling.
The Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman was wasted in the unnecessary reboot of “Robocop,” but he shows big-time movie-star chops as Jimmy’s son, who has fought his whole life to avoid becoming his father, and now finds himself with a gun in his hand, facing down professional hit men. Vincent D’Onofrio is terrific as a veteran detective who has been trying to nail Jimmy for decades. Genesis Rodriguez does fine work in a smallish role as Mike’s pregnant wife. (The good guy’s wife is pregnant in SO many thrillers.)
Front and center, of course, is our man Liam, who is bloodied, bruised and battered, but keeps on coming. No matter how the night plays out, there’s no redemption for Jimmy. He has killed more than a dozen people, ruined hundreds of lives, committed crimes too numerous to count. He’s not looking for forgiveness. Neeson doesn’t try to win us over or make us believe Jimmy is experiencing a come-to-Jesus moment. He’s a killer at the end of the road, doing whatever he has to do ensure his son doesn’t become his last victim.