In recent years, Liam Neeson’s career has had a bit of a renaissance in playing the leading man in action-thriller films like Taken (2008) and Unknown (2011). The positive side of this is that Neeson is a terrific actor that is easily able to fulfill the role of an action star, even at the age of sixty-three. The down side is that most of these roles seem to be carbon copies of each other, that rely more on formulaic plots then utilising Neeson’s true talents.
Run All Night places Neeson as Jimmy Conlon: a down on his luck drunk that has long since abandoned his son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman). The only person that seems to still be loyal to Jimmy is his longtime best friend, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), who just also happens to be a revered mob boss. When Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son to save his own, he must take Mike on the run to avoid retaliation. Now Jimmy’s true loyalties are tested as he is made to choose between his best friend and his estranged son.
The film holds a lot of promise within it’s first half. It takes it’s time in setting up Jimmy as a drunken bum who can’t seem to even help himself, and Mike as a sympathetic every-man, trying to raise his family while dealing with his daunting past. The characters are fully fleshed out, with both attempting to make the best of situations that neither seems to have had any ability to control.
Unexpectedly, the true highlight of the film is the relationship between Jimmy and Shawn. Every time Neeson and Harris share the screen the film really comes alive, which brings a certain gravitas to the friendship and the stakes. It’s easy to believe the significance that these two men have for each other and the lengths each would go to for the other.
The second half of the film isn’t as enjoyable though, and seems to forfeit everything previously established in favour of flying bullets and high-speed car chases. Neeson’s Jimmy seems to lose all characterisation, turning him instead into a generic action hero that could have been from any of Neeson’s recent films, and thus ignores that mere minutes ago his character was a barely functioning alcoholic. In all honesty, if he were to have suddenly started shouting dialogue about a previously unmentioned kidnapped daughter it would not have even registered an eyebrow raise.
The biggest loss however is Harris’, with the film ignoring any of the grey areas his character may have had dealing with wanting to kill his former friend, and instead turning him into a full-on clichéd villain.
Overall, fans of action-thrillers and Neeson’s won’t be disappointed with the fast paced plot and non-stop action, but others might find themselves hoping for a little more substance over style.