No Sin Goes Unpunished: Run All Night (2015)
Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson’s track record together is spotty at best, but it’s absolutely noteworthy for its steady upwards progression within such a short amount of time. Their first collaboration, Unknown, is a sloppy paranoid thriller. Their second, Non-Stop, is a technically sound and fun action thriller, but it’s their third, Run All Night, that remains my favorite. It’s a neo-noir of the best kind, a dark and seedy family crime story with some great emotional monologuing, a lot of style, and Liam Neeson swordfighting Common with burning logs.
Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) has made a living as a career hitman for his friend, mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). When Conlon’s estranged son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), accidentally witnesses a murder committed by Maguire’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), Conlon is forced to step in to save his son by killing Danny. This betrayal sets the whole city after Jimmy and Mike, who spend the entire night trying to outrun the mob, a hitman (Common), the crooked police, and a detective (Vincent D’Onofrio) who’s been looking for an excuse to put Jimmy away for years.
The chase takes the two all across the city in a number of well filmed action scenes. There’s a thrilling car chase through the streets of New York City, flying past and in between swerving cars culminating in a storefront destroying flip. The aforementioned brawl in the burning room is goofy and out of place, but is bookended by Jimmy and Mike making their escape in dramatic fashion by climbing down the side of the building. The most interesting set-piece opens and closes the film, a manhunt in the forest that uses an impossible slow motion CGI zoom also used in the film’s transitional scenes. As exciting as these few action scenes are, they don’t compel nearly as much as the gripping family drama at the center.
Mike and Jimmy haven’t spoken in years, to the point that Jimmy hasn’t even met his own grandchildren or Mike’s wife. Their gradual reconnection is touching, but even more so is the relationship between Neeson and Harris’s characters. The two have a believably long history, that’s partially because of the two actors’ lived in personas, but mostly due to a strong script and incredible chemistry. The two share a handful of memorable scenes, beginning with longing discussion of their past exploits and later solemnly speaking about their respective doomed futures. There’s a mutual respect that comes across in every frame, right up until the climactic final confrontation in a derelict train depot.
The rest of the cast, on the other hand, don’t do much other than exist to drive the plot. D’Onofrio plays a variation of the cop character that he’s played for over a decade, Common plays yet another stone faced hitman, and Genesis Rodriguez is totally sidelined. Kinnaman falls into a dangerous place that many actors have fallen in, having to play the son of a much more skilled actor. It’s an unwinnable situation, especially because he and Neeson are equally important to the plot. The film’s most interesting supporting performance comes from Holbrook, but he is dead and gone before too much development can happen, ending as a one-note character.
Run All Night is a dark, pulpy ride through a criminal underground that’s not all that original but entirely effective in it’s own context. That’s thanks to the incredibly compelling chemistry between Ed Harris and Liam Neeson and and Jaume-Collet Serra’s increasing talents. I’ve yet to be absolutely blown away by a film of his, but this is his best yet, and if The Commuter follows the upwards trajectory achieved thus far in his collaborations with Neeson, it could be the one to cast aside my doubts.