It’s not just me, right? I can’t be the only one who feels like we’ve all been here before. Liam Neeson isn’t just an actor anymore; he has become a genre in and of himself. It seems that every role he plays nowadays is as a flawed yet likeable patriarch with superheroic gun skills who must either win back the affection of his family and/or prove that he had a superior point of view that his family should have listened to. These are quintessential dad movies, targeted at the 40-60 year old male demographic to provide them with assurances that they were successful parents while getting to watch one of their contemporaries be more badass than any subsequent generation. And Run All Night is no exception.
Neeson’s alias this time is Jimmy Conlon, a former hitman for the local Irish mob who hung up his hat and wallowed in his inability to connect with his estranged adult son, Mike, by becoming an alcoholic. His only friend is Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), the head of said mob, who repays years of service by supporting Jimmy through this tough time in his life. Through an unnecessarily convoluted chain of events, Shawn’s son threatens to kill Mike, forcing Jimmy to kill Shawn’s son and put Jimmy and Mike on the top of Shawn’s hit list. The two must spend the night running from crooked cops and hired hitmen in order to save themselves and protect Mike’s family.
The themes and motifs present in this film should not be unfamiliar to anyone who has seen a Liam Neeson movie since 2008, and much like the rest of that catalogue, the results are pretty standard. There’s not much one can say about an adequately directed action film, as the formula has been down pat since at least the 80s and it’s rather difficult to screw up too badly. Neeson and Harris do respectably well playing begrudging adversaries, two men who really don’t want to fight one another, but must betray years of friendship out of loyalty to their families. There’s a genuine sadness to be felt between their characters that a lesser film would have played off as bitter rage.
However, the plotting of this film is unforgivably complex. For as shallow and superfluous as many of the film’s characters are, there certainly are a lot of interweaving plot threads for what essentially amounts to a good-guy-versus-bad-guy narrative. What should have been a ninety minute film is stretched to two hours by the sheer amount of unnecessary plotting, especially considering the driving moment of the plot doesn’t happen until after twenty minutes of establishing scenes. By comparison, John Wick had an intricately established cast of characters, but each was unique and interesting enough to be memorable, and the plot was simple enough that exposition often wasn’t necessary. Run All Night, on the other hand, feels like it needs a flow chart to keep track of all its dealings, but none of them actually matter in light of the central conflict.
Still, despite all its flaws, I can’t really fault Run All Night for what it is. It’s a popcorn flick, plain and simple. Something to watch once, forget about immediately after, and then watch again years later only to have it seem vaguely familiar to you. It’s not a bad film, nor is it an especially good one, but it’s entertaining enough to watch through to the end, and that’s ultimately what films are here to do: entertain.
Do Liam Neeson films interest you at all? Or do they all melt together into a malaise of guns and sternness? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.