There's good news and bad news about Oscar-nominated thespian-turned-geriatric action star Liam Neeson. The good news: He's announced that the curtain will soon come down on the segment of his career that began in 2008 with Taken and improbably spawned an entire subgenre. The bad news: Neeson plans to cash a couple of years' worth of additional paychecks ($20 million for Taken 3!) before he calls it quits. So we've got a few more Unknowns and Non-Stops to sit through before the actor gets back to playing characters who are more than variations on Bryan Mills.
Jimmy Conlon is the latest spin on that archetype. In Run All Night, Neeson reteams with director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop) for the slightly-better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be saga of an over-the-hill mob hitman forced back into action by fate and Brad Ingelsby's needlessly convoluted script.
In his prime, Conlon was such a model of lethal efficiency he was known as the Gravedigger. But those days are long behind him as the movie opens. His old buddy and boss, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), has gone legit and is getting ready to retire. Conlon's son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), thinks he's scum and hasn't spoken to him for years. His wife is dead. As is the heat pump in his run-down dump of a house. Which is why Conlon is reduced to pleading with Maguire's hotheaded coke-fiend offspring, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), for a loan.
There, I think we've introduced all the main players. No, wait: I forgot the Albanian traffickers. You can't have a Liam Neeson action film without them; I'm pretty sure it's law.
Those Albanians are key to setting in motion the sequence of events that unfolds over a single night. In a nutshell, young Danny owes them, and they come by his place to collect. Being a loose cannon, he decides to gun them down rather than pay them back.
As fate and the script would have it, Mike winds up witnessing the whack. Which means Danny has to kill him, too. Which means the Gravedigger has to save his own son by taking out the son of his lifelong friend, and then use his very particular set of skills to stay one step ahead of Maguire's goons while making things right with Mike as the two race from one end of New York to the other. See what I mean about convoluted?
What makes Run All Night more interesting than it sounds is the twist that the two guys forced by fate (and that script again) to want each other dead are genuinely fond of each other. The picture occasionally takes time out to remind us that Neeson and Harris are really quite wonderful actors. They bring a dignity and depth of feeling to their roles even as the filmmakers do everything in their power to turn them into characters in a second-rate Frank Miller comic. When they had their last scene together, I swear for a second I almost felt the way I did at the end of Love Story.
"I've done some terrible things in my life," Conlon reflects. Neeson himself could make a similar statement, but Run All Night is not the most terrible of his films by a long shot. It hits all the usual genre beats, but it has just enough brains and heart to elevate it above the blur of old-guy-comes-out-of-retirement-to-save-a-family-member films the actor has concentrated on for the better part of a decade.
Still, it'll be nice, won't it, when that decade is behind us?