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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Run All Night 2015 * * * Stars

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman

"Liam frickin Neeson". Those are the first thoughts that enter my mind when I discover that Ireland's favorite butt kicker is making another action drama. The look: a leather jacket, an unshaven face, a weariness from the soaking effects of alcohol on the mend. The character: one bad mother, a former hitman battling inner demons, a 6'4" juggernaut with a special set of skills. The plot: fathers and sons, mob ties, plenty of chain smoking, bodies piling up. The verdict: 2015's Run All Night is the third collaboration from Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra. They scored with last year's Non-Stop and actually top themselves this time with "Night". It's a hard-ass, moxie noir that makes you feel unsafe and doesn't give you a chance to breathe. Dare I say that this might be the crowning achievement in Liam's career as a vigilante who's on the verge of collecting his veritable social security.

Containing a set of story lines and/or themes that evoke shades of 2006's Running Scared and even 2011's DriveRun All Night is a farcical yet entertaining vehicle. It sporadically features mad dog chemistry between Neeson and his heavyweight acting counterpart, Ed Harris. The story takes us to I guess, present day New York City. Liam "I'm still milking the action cow" Neeson plays a former contract killer named Jimmy Conlon (the quintessential name for a New Yorker). Jimmy currently lives his life in a drunken haze. He rarely eats, has huge regrets, and is so broke, he's actually desperate enough to borrow eight hundred dollars. He's also estranged from his son Mike Conlon (played by Joe Kinnaman), his ex-wife has passed away long ago, and he's relegated to living in a rundown apartment. Despite all this, he still has the back of his former yet more successful crime boss, Shawn Maguire (played by Ed Harris). Within "Night's" first half hour, Jimmy's son (a part-time limo driver) winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time. He watches Shawn's son Danny (played by Boyd Holbrook) commit multiple murders. When Danny goes after Mike as to leave no witnesses behind, Jimmy kills Danny and the two are hunted down by everyone from the police to another hired hitman to Shawn's plethora of mob henchmen. Ed's Shawn instinctively turns on Liam's Jimmy and says to him, "I'm coming after Mikey with everything I got". You ain't kidding bud.

Jaume Collet-Serra's direction is at times hyperkinetic if not unsobering. Instead of always cutting to a scene, he chooses to use Manhattan as a CGI map so his camera can go all aerial by travelling from one location to the next. He also exhausts you with plenty of gravitating action set pieces as well as letting his sound effects editor (Patrick Cicero) pound your senses with loud, visceral gunplay. He unintentionally channels 1995's Heat. There's the familiar restaurant conversation between the leads (a la De Niro and Pacino) and the familiar ending involving kill shots and bromantic hand holding. Finally, Collet-Serra gives "Night" a feeling of a Western via the last ten minutes. That's when Neeson's Conlon gets his indubitable kill on in a ruffneck, mafia-invested tavern.

With the exception of Joel Kinnaman who's just as wooden as he was in last year's RoboCopRun All Night has performances that are rich and textured. We start of course, with Liam Neeson. He dons the mask and cape as the ultimate antihero. His despicable, former murderer for hire is fall down drunk until his need to save his wrongly accused son really makes him snap to it. Ed Harris is well, effective playing Ed Harris. He does his best emoting while sitting down and not moving all over the place. Then we have Common. With minimal dialogue and a how to approach in being Joe Conlon's rival hitman (Mr. Price), the Chicago born rapper is icy cool and rigidly nasty. Last but not least, there's grizzly Nick Nolte in an unbilled, two to three minute cameo. He plays Neeson's character's disapproving brother.

Acting and directing stints aside, I am going to recommend Run All Night despite some cliches. They run rampant like the movie version of the NYPD who never seems to get to a violent shootout on time. We also have the the gun-toting protagonist who fails to run out of ammo no matter how many gazillion rounds he's fired. Finally, we get the obligatory opening flashback where a character is on the verge of dying. This flashback, which is enhanced by narration, later on turns into a climatic scene that will be featured towards "Night's" conclusion. I lost count the number of times thrillers featured this hand me down.

Anyway, Run All Night has its share of flaws. However, it has given me the most excitement I've had writing a review since I penned The Gambler back in December. It's a relentless shootout quandary, a nail biter that an audience member should never and I mean never, "run" away from. So okay, here's what you do: grab some popcorn, buy a pack of Goobers, fill up your soda, and get settled in. As Neeson's Conlon says during the film's second act, "it's gonna be a long night".

Written by Jesse Burleson

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