Mark Reviews Movies

Run All Night


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Vincent D'Onofrio, Nick Nolte, Bruce McGill, Genesis Rodriguez, Common, Ed Harris

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence, language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 3/13/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 12, 2015

There's a tough, complicated story about a character's conflicting loyalties hidden somewhere in Run All Night. Instead, the screenplay by Brad Ingelsby uses that jumping-off point as an excuse to put that character in a series of standard-issue action sequences. Everything here is clear-cut, with cleanly divided lines and pieces that come together as predictably as those in a simple jigsaw puzzle. Even though the scenario features messy emotions and uneasy relationships, the movie finds the simplest, most obvious solutions, which, of course, come in the form of chases, fistfights, and shootouts.

We keep hoping the movie won't settle—that there will be a piece missing from the story's puzzle that would reflect the characters' predicaments. It settles, though, and keeps settling for the easiest course of action, in which any complication can be solved with a car chase or with bullets. In other words, we want some drama from this scenario—some sign that the characters have some purpose beyond getting the pieces of the plot assembled. The movie only offers—and not too convincingly—melodrama, in which the characters have no purpose beyond putting together the pieces.

In theory, the plot is a doozy of blurred lines, although it doesn't play out that way. Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is a former hitman for his oldest friend Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), who once ran a criminal organization in New York City with an iron fist but who has since become a "legitimate businessman." In the years after he became known as "the Gravedigger," Jimmy has hit the bottle hard, trying to drink away the nightmares of the faces of the men he killed.

Jimmy has an estranged son named Mike (Joel Kinnaman). He is a limo driver, a husband to his pregnant wife Gabriela (Genesis Rodriguez), and a father to two daughters. One night, Mike drives a group of Albanian gangsters to meet with Shawn's son Danny (Boyd Holbrook), who made empty promises about a drug deal. They want their money returned, and Danny responds by killing them.

Mike witnesses one of the murders, escapes Danny's attempt to permanently silence him, and receives a visit from Jimmy on behalf of Shawn, who wants to make sure that Mike won't become a problem. Ultimately, Jimmy kills Danny before his boss' son can kill his own son. Shawn wants revenge, and father and son go on the run.

There's a fairly lengthy buildup to the inciting incident, and it's here that the movie establishes some semblance of conflict for Jimmy. He and Shawn are old friends. Shawn is the only person who can still stand Jimmy or who doesn't see him as a pathetic joke (Danny coerces him to dress up as Santa for a Christmas party, where Jimmy gets drunk, hits on a gangster's wife, burns his hand on a fireplace, and curses up a storm in front of a bunch of children). The two men owe each other a lot, and there's more of a sense of family between Jimmy and Shawn than between Jimmy and Mike.

That distinction is intentional although, ultimately, irrelevant. There's a scene late in the movie in which Jimmy and Mike visit Jimmy's brother (Nick Nolte), who tells a story of how Jimmy once put his loyalty to Jimmy over family ties. It's a strange scene (aside from the awkward flashback within it) that seems to be a remnant of a different version of this screenplay—one in which Jimmy's loyalties are a genuine matter of concern. Here, though, it's just an excuse for Mike to once again arbitrarily distance himself from Jimmy, putting him in greater peril and eventually leading to yet another action scene.

There's a routine to the movie's plot that is difficult to ignore and that frustratingly simplifies matters. Jimmy and/or Mike try to escape gangsters and invariably end up in a corner from which they must escape. The scenes in between exist to get them into that corner.

Even the escapes are underwhelming, even though a few show signs of an innovative dynamic or two. Take an early chase scene in which Jimmy is following a couple of crooked cops who have taken Mike into custody and who are, in turn, following some of Shawn's men. The dynamic shifts dramatically, sending Jimmy chasing the cops and the gangsters chasing him. There's potential here, but director Jaume Collet-Serra stages the sequence in a hodgepodge of quick cuts that undermine it.

The majority of the other action sequences stop short just as they start to exhibit some life. A subway game of cat and mouse ends on an anticlimax, as does a multilevel chase surrounded by chaos inside an apartment complex. In that sequence, we meet the one character who holds some intrigue. He's Price (Common), a sociopathic hitman with a straitlaced demeanor and sense of fashion. We learn nothing about him beyond his motivation, which is to kill Mike and Jimmy. Unlike the other characters, there's no baggage of expectation associated with him, and for that reason alone, his no-frills characterization and unapologetic purpose of solely serving the plot are kind of refreshing here.

Run All Night starts by promising something more than hollow characters running, driving, and shooting their way through a dilemma. That, though, is all we get.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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