Liam Neeson’s not exactly in a rut. Okay, in this film he plays a prolific killer out to protect his child from very bad men. But it isn’t a Taken sequel, and it’s his son, not his daughter this time. So there.
Run All Night is more like a transplanted western, opening with Neeson in a disreputable state as Jimmy Conlon, a gunman with a tortured conscience gone deep into the bottle — Doc Holliday’s in downtown Manhattan. He has the shakes so bad that he agrees to play Santa Claus for gin money. Yet a few hours later, he’s shooting and thinking straight after a series of missteps puts him and his son (Joel Kinnaman) on the wrong side of the town that Shawn (Ed Harris) runs. But this is not Dodge; it’s scenic New York City, and we get a grand tour of its wild side along with some fantastic cameos: Common is a high-tech hit man; an uncredited Nick Nolte is a grumbly, bloated family member.
You might think Neeson, at 62, is a bit shopworn to keep running and shooting all night, but this film isn’t as narrow-minded as the Takens; Jimmy is the hero, but he isn’t a good guy. Besides swooping camerawork, director Jaume Collet-Serra shapes a nice chiaroscuro profile around his star. For instance, we know at the beginning of the movie he’s heading for a hard roundup, and much of the film’s suspense revolves around how he will eventually cross from mean streets into a pine-forest shoot-out. We know he deserves the worst, but his son has a nice family, and we care what happens to them.
The film isn’t great — it has many formal elements that defy reason — but Neeson is still one of our few believable tough guys. Maybe he can do a bromance next time.