Run All Night

by Jake Mulligan

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday March 13, 2015

Ed Harris and Liam Neeson star in 'Run All Night'
Ed Harris and Liam Neeson star in 'Run All Night'  (Source:Warner Bros.)

"Run All Night" renders itself catnip for action movie fans -- a bit too much so. We start off with Liam Neeson, bleeding out, gun-in-hand, playing his usual badass self: "I've done terrible things." Flash back to 16 hours earlier, so we can see him get into this mess. He's on the run from Ed Harris' mob boss, who's modeled blatantly after Brando's Don Corleone. (He even gets all high and mighty about drug-running.)

Then Neeson has to go to war with Common's unstoppable hitman, who's outfitted with a laser sight and an infrared lens over one eye -- just like the Terminator. Far from the compact thrillers that director Jaume Collet-Serra has previously made with Liam Neeson ("Non-stop" and "Unknown,") "Run All Night" is bloated to an almost amateur degree. It plays out like action movie fan-fiction.

But first it has some fun with Neeson's new persona. His action-movie resurgence, combined with his tragic personal history, have turned him into a walking spectre of regret -- the ghost of badasses past. He's the only action-star who can convince you he feels bad every time he pulls the trigger. Here he plays Jimmy the gravedigger, a washed up hitman wracked with guilt for kills past. He drunkenly hangs around his Boss Shawn (Ed Harris) as he waits to die, hoping for handouts. Collet-Serra and Neeson triple down on the melancholy and make the actor more pathetic than ever: Within the first ten minutes he's begged for a loan, dressed as Santa, vomited in front of children, and hit on a married woman in front of her grumpy husband.

This is a "sins of the father" movie, so he eventually has to clean up his act. Neeson's character has a son (Joel Kinnaman) whom he abandoned years prior, and -- wouldn't you know it -- the kid just got tangled up in a criminal plot that also involves Shawn's drug-dealing progeny. That's the titular run of the title: Neeson is forced to choose the boy he left over the sad life that he kept, and the two of them are on the run from Shawn's henchmen (including Common's Terminator) from dusk 'til dawn. Collet-Serra uses freeze frames and CGI traveling shots to get us from one borough to another with style, but there's only one reason to run so fast: He wants to get us from one fight scene to another as quickly as possible. This movie may be about the sins of the father, but it sure likes to watch the father sin some more.

There's a constant push-pull here between the violence and the regretful tone. Collet-Serra can't stop fetishizing the violence that he's supposedly decrying. He's constantly panning his camera backwards to reveal family photos of happier times, as if to undercut the violence that he makes look so cool, with slow-motion and camera tricks. There's only one thing here that truly inspires melancholy, and that's the performance of his lead actor. Neeson plays his character like a chopped-down tree in an empty forest. Walking with a stagger, leaning when he sits -- he's always threatening to fall down. This is a terribly silly film, but it bleeds from real wounds.