Liam Neeson has settled into the action movie genre in recent years with hits like “Taken.” He handles the physicality of the genre with ease, and his acting skills give the movies a high-intensity punch.
But, if you live by the action film sword, you can just as easily die by it. Big car chase scenes and shootouts become redundant without some emotional meat in the middle. There’s enough emotion in Neeson’s latest action film “Run All Night” to nudge it closer to the hit pile.
Neeson again plays a burned-out killer. This time, he’s Jimmy Conlon, a professional hit man who now spends most of his days trying to bum money off his best friend, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). He returns to his killing ways when Maguire’s son (Boyd Holbrook) tries to cover up a double homicide. One of the witnesses is Mike Conlon (Joel Kinnaman), a part-time chauffeur/boxing coach who has been estranged from his father for years.
Although Jimmy’s actions are to save his son, that doesn’t stop Maguire from framing the pair and sending his own men to kill them.
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Director Collet-Serra (who helmed Neeson’s “Non-Stop”) shows great skill at both staging eye-bending action sequences and heart-tugging emotional moments. From a very realistic-looking car chase to a fog-covered showdown in the woods, Collet-Serra keeps layering on the tension. He loses a few points for a scene at the start of the film that eliminates some of the tautness from the story. But it’s only a cinematic version of a flesh wound.
Where he gains back points is in clever camera use to jump between scenes. The director defies laws of gravity to have the point of view start in one area and then lift off and glide to the next scene. It’s a clever device because tension built in the previous sequence transfers to the new scene. There’s no blackout jump to give the audience time to recoup.
Brad Ingelsby’s script creates enough tension between old friends, father and son, plus husband and wife, to make the transitions between the action sequences meaningful. Neeson has played the absentee father enough that he nails it here. It’s Kinnaman who takes that familiar role and adds energy because of his intense feelings about his father.
The film also features some strong supporting players, including Common as a relentless hit man. Someone should sign him up for the next big-action film franchise because he’s got that character down cold.
Vincent D’Onofrio returns to a familiar role as a police detective, but it works. And Nick Nolte’s brief appearance delivers a nice plot jolt.
Neeson will never match the pure energy and excitement he found in “Taken.” But “Run All Night” sports enough high-caliber performances, memorable camera work and top-notch action scenes that if this had been “Taken 3,” it would have certainly been a far better way to end that franchise.