Setting aside, for a moment, all the jokes at Liam Neeson’s expense with regards to his being the worst movie dad since Terry O’Quinn in The Stepfather; there is an effort in Run All Night to force his character to pay his dues. Yes, he’s a bad father and that’s only equal to the degree that he also plays a worthless human being. He’s a drunk (again). He has killed more people than Rambo (again). His kids hate his rotten guts (again). He’s at the end of his rope (again). But it’s done a little better there and with some measure of thought.
In Run All Night Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a former enforcer for the Irish mob whose nickname in the old days was “The Gravedigger.” Times have changed. His childhood friend and mob employer Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) has taken the high road and gone legit while he has taken the low road by crawling inside a bottle. He’s a rotten human being, his kid hasn’t a bit of use for him and so Jimmy spends much of his time drinking, begging for money and/or wallowing in self-pity.
He has a lot of issues, not the least of which is his prickly relationship with his law-abiding son Michael (Joel Kinneman) who is so mad at the old man that he won’t introduce him to his wife and kids. No wait, let me reemphasize. He’s so angry with Neeson that he’s still giving him Hell even after dear old dad has saved his life for the 12th time in one night! Geez lighten up, kid.
The plot bubbles to the surface when Shawn’s no-good son Danny gets into trouble with the Albanian mafia. A shootout ensues, Michael is a witnesses to a murder committed by Danny . Danny tries to kill Michael and Jimmy is forced to kill Danny. Grief-stricken Shawn puts out a hit on Jimmy and Michael for Danny’s murder leading all parties to follow the lead indicated in the film’s title. They not only chase each other around New York, but they are pursued by cops both dirty and otherwise.
Got all that?
Actually for a while the movie is going pretty good. The characters have a measure of depth and you can feel that they have a past history that isn’t just manufactured for convenience. There’s a lot of bad blood here and the performances by Neeson and Ed Harris feel lived-in. So does the world they live in, which feels like a real neighborhood.
The problem is that this earthy, realistic tone is off-set by a lot of whiz-bang camera tricks that suddenly reminds us that we’re watching a movie. In one shot, he camera picks up and moves outward to a map of the city and then whizzes quickly back down to the location that we need to be at that current moment. It’s a distracting gimmick that feels like the cut scene in a video game.
Yet, whatever character development and human interest was developed in the movies’ first half is more or less washed away once Shawn’s goons start chasing Jimmy and Michael. At that point it become and admittedly exciting action chase picture, but you’re left saddened by the fact that this is all there is. Why establish interesting characters only to throw them away on standard shoot-outs. This is a movie that starts as something deeper and more human than rises back to the surface and stays there.