In these doldrums of late winter, one’s taste in film begins to shift slightly. After gorging on the rich foods from Oscar season, and before the junky treats of Summer Blockbusters soon to come, we’re in this strange holding pattern where films seem to come and go with few really grabbing our attention. Action films in particular tend to be dire right about now (I’ll give you a hint: Tracers or The Gunman aren’t bucking the trend), and the likes of Chappie make doing this job just that bit harder, bordering on the masochistic.
It’s in this environment that I found myself, almost despite myself, enjoying the heck out of Run All Night. I really thought Liam Neeson’s time as a guy with a gun was growing stale (looking at you, the appalling Taken 3), but leave it to the gruff Irishman to show that, yes, repetition can still be rewarding.
Neeson plays a washed up hitman who works for crime boss Ed Harris. Things get complicated when there’s a confrontation between their sons, played by Joel Kinnaman and Boyd Holbrook. Recent Oscar winner Common plays a hitman and I was pleased to see Vincent D’Onofrio as a gruff cop, which probably isn’t a big stretch for him. Whatever the hell that man does, he’s still in some of the finest cinematic (Full Metal Jacket) and Televisual (Homicide: Life On The Streets) moments in history, so I don’t really care how he’s coasting these days.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra has followed the Luc Besson route, crafting these clever action or genre pieces for an international audience with a decidedly European flair. Like his last collaboration with Neeson, the Die Hard-on-a-plane Non Stop, Run All Night is more than a bit showy with pretensions of being more than just a series of quick cuts and loud score. Collet-Serra uses this swooping camera shtick to fly in and out of the urban locations, crafting a kind of omniscient view that ties the disparate elements together. Shots of Times Square, the inside of a Limo or even a musty bar have the right look, as if a seasoned eye schooled by decades of Scorsese films knew just how to set the right mood.
The whole drama plays in a kind of flashback (sixteen hours, no less), making the events that go from fall-down drunk to felled by gunshot (the first shot of the film) feel like quite the long evening. Like Die Hard this is a film set at Christmas, yet this ‘bad day’ is in many ways more nihilistic and moralistic.
So, yeah, superficially it’s a straight up action film with a bunch of gun battles, but there’s also an undercurrent of trying to be more than that, to sprinkle the mayhem with a dash of character and intelligence. The screenwriter Brad Ingelsby previous penned Out of the Furnace which suffered from being portentious as it veered too far away from being a fun flick into being somber and didactic. I think the right balance is struck here, and if the film was cut down by twenty minutes or so to avoid some of the elements that drag this just might be a new classic.
We get something that’s fun and effective, coming out at a time where that feels almost revelatory. Feed a starving man some spoiled food and he’ll thank you, feed an audience starving for some sign of intelligent filmmaking and the movie will appear to be better than it probably is. At this point I’m taking “pretty good” as a good enough, and while Run All Night maybe not worth running out to see, it still is in its own way quite fulfilling.