Sunday, February 12, 2017

Run All Night (2015)

For a decade or some, Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) worked as best friend and private hitman for New York gangster boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), earning himself the charming nickname of “The Gravedigger”. Now, Jimmy’s old, frequently drunk and wracked with guilt for all the people he murdered. His job, and what he thinks his particular set of abilities says about him as a man and as a human being, also cost him the relationship with his son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman), and anyone else he ever loved apart from Shawn.

Michael – a failed boxer turned limousine driver – wants nothing whatsoever to do with his father. This state of affairs has to change when he witnesses Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) – just as violent as his father but clearly lacking all control and finesse – murdering an Albanian drug dealer. Despite Danny’s worst efforts of getting rid of the witness, Michael escapes with his life. When Shawn calls Jimmy to talk things out, things seem set to die down without any further corpses, but Danny goes over his father’s head to kill Michael anyway. Jimmy has no choice but to shoot him to protect his own son.

Shawn is very displeased, at once putting all his men on finding and murdering Michael and his family (preferably in front of Jimmy), and Jimmy himself. Things are particularly hairy because “among his men” also means quite a few cops. Shawn also manipulates the evidence for the dead dealers to point towards Michael, which takes care of the honest cops too. He’s his father’s son, after all, right? Well, there is the somewhat more thoughtful – and certainly absolutely honest as proven by his hounding Jimmy for years – Detective John Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio) who just might believe Michael’s story, but a policeman has to go where the evidence points him.

In the following hours, Jimmy will do anything to protect his son, perhaps finding a kind of redemption even though he has to fall back into his worst self.

The even mildly genre-savvy reader will obviously have noticed that Jaume Collet-Serra’s crime action thriller lacks any original bones, starting from a well-known set-up, with well-known character types, going through a well-known kind of plot without any developments that’ll surprise anyone. Even the lead characters seem rather obviously cast for their roles.

However – and this is a rather big “however” in my book – Collet-Serra hits all the expected plot beats with such good timing and trusts in his actors’ abilities to sell the clichés as true so effectively, that I found myself absolutely engrossed in the film, not caring the slightest that I’d seen this all before but in fact enjoying everything as if it were new; or at least new-ish.

It does surely help that Collet-Serra, despite being not much of a name director, is a fine all-rounder (if you ignore Non-Stop, his previous Neeson action movie), in this case demonstrating himself to be fully at home in cracking action sequences, the quick evocation of mood via wet city streets, and making space for old school presence actors like Neeson and Harris to show off their talents without things ever becoming showy.

Run All Night is probably not the sort of film anyone who doesn’t love genre movies as a whole as much as I do will find quite this entrancing but if you’ve a heart for tales of aging violent men and their emotional baggage (surprisingly enough in this case also including some clever mirroring of characters and their respective baggages in the script) you owe it to yourself to watch this. In keeping with most of Collet-Serra’s body of work, it’s a much better film than it strictly needs to be.

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