Saturday, 28 March 2015

Run All Night (2015) - Movie Review

Even though I have been carrying on with this compulsive list-of-every-movie-I-see-each-year gig since 2012, I’ve only been taking it… seriously(?) for a few months now with this review blog. The short time I have been doing this makes me think that, quite frankly, Liam Neeson needs to slow the hell down because I have covered three of his films in that time. That, combined with the numerous films he has been in since Taken hit it big, makes me really regret feeling burn-out over the Oscar season pics because I am really starting to grow bored of Neeson’s brand of action fodder. Not to say that he’s bad or anything, as he’s more than capable of playing the hero in these films, but he doesn’t really bring anything special to the mix with his presence. Put him next to someone like Jason Statham, who has not one but two films coming out very soon, and that lack of an USP becomes even more blatant.  So, best we can hope for is that the production around him is solid enough… but do we get that this time around? Time for Neeson no. 4: This is Run All Night.

The plot: Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is a former hitman for Irish mob boss and childhood friend Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Their friendship soon shatters, however, when Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) to protect his own son Mike (Joel Kinnaman). With Jimmy and Mike being framed for the murder of two cops, Detective Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio) in hot pursuit and Shawn sending all of his men after the Conlons, including specialized hitman Mr. Price (Common), Jimmy has one night to clear everything up and keep his promise to remove Mike from this way of life.

The cast here is pretty good. Neeson may be a little too comfortable in his role but he shows that same connection with Jaume Collet-Serra that made his performance in Non-Stop so effective. He is essentially playing the same role here of the washed-up lush, just with a flipped morality from being a policeman to being an enforcer. This ends up leading to a damn funny, if incredibly out of place scene, where Neeson essentially plays Bad Santa. Yes, seriously; red suit, fake beard, the whole nine yards. That said, though, he manages to balance the awkward drunk elements of his character with Jimmy’s haunted memories of his past kills; this is the kind of nuance the character needs in order to stand out, and it actually gives hope right from the get-go that this will work out as a film.

Ed Harris does really well as the intimidating and yet sympathetic antagonist, while also being one of the few ‘businessmen’ in fiction who seems to have a head on his shoulders; him explaining to his son why he won’t deal heroin again, and the fact that he was good at it being the reason why, is a very welcome reprieve from the all-too-dumb gangsters we’ve been getting of late, especially in other Neeson fare. Joel Kinnaman, while basically serving as Neeson’s sidekick for the most part, acts as a good foil for Neeson and you could genuinely buy the strained familial bond they have with each other. D’Onofrio gets to pull out his Law & Order duds for this one, and shows that he still fits those shoes as well as he did all those years ago.

However, by far the biggest surprise in the cast here, aside from a nice Nick Nolte bit part, is Common as Mr. Price. … Good Lord, since when could he be this intense? He plays the role of the stone cold killer with the kind of presence that I never would have guessed he could pull off. I mean, I’ve seen him as an assassin before in Wanted, but that was nothing compared to how well he plays Price’s stoicism, not to mention serving greatly as the secondary antagonist.

This film is built on the foundation of the relationships between the characters, so it will live or die by how well these are carried off, and in this case man oh man does this film succeed. Neeson and Harris, considering their relationship and its subsequent fallout is what sets the plot into motion, both have excellent chemistry together, reminiscing about the old days and how they have both changed since then. When it comes to light just how far Jimmy was willing to go for his friend and boss, you easily buy all of it on the strength of their performances together. Neeson and Kinnaman as father and son, while dipping every so often into the clich├ęd "I’m trying to protect you from X way of life" pool, interact well and manage to sell the concept without going too far into schmaltz or, as with A Good Day To Not Watch Die Hard, too far into apathy.

While these character interactions work well in terms of building the film’s plot, which may be scattershot but focused enough to make the core premise work, the interaction between Jimmy and Price add a surprising amount of subtext to the production. In both of their main fight scenes together, including a damn good setpiece in a burning apartment, you can see a very obvious contrast in their methods: Price’s fighting style is fairly flashy, pulling off a Black Widow wrestling moment at one point, and he’s outfitted with some pretty high-tech equipment like a pistol with red dot sight, night vision glasses and a police radio interceptor to take down the Conlons; Jimmy, on the other hand, is very blunt and straight-forward with his attacks and stands by his revolver and (later on) his shotgun as his arsenal. This comes across like Jimmy is supposed to represent the old guard of action films, kind of ironic given how his emergence in the genre is a fairly recent development, while Price is the embodiment of the new school. This is aided by the fact that the film itself is set during the holiday season, a classic 80’s action staple like in Lethal Weapon and the first two Die Hard films. I may be reading a little too far into things, like always, but it’s this kind of subtext to the action that helps it to stand out from not just Neeson’s other films but also from its competitors.

Now to take a look at the film score, something that is usually unacknowledged on this blog because very few soundtracks end up standing out enough for me. However, this one did stand out because of the person composing it: Junkie XL, a Dutch EDM artist who has gotten a lot of film work in recent years.I have taken to referring to him as the Jai Courtney of composers as the guy gets attached to some pretty crap projects: In the last two years alone, he's worked on Man Of Steel, Paranoia, 300: Rise Of An Empire as well as the all-out failure of fiction that was Divergent. The only ‘good’ film he worked on during this time was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but then again that was as part of a supergroup of composers alongside Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams; also, that film is still pretty hotly contested as to whether or not it is actually good. So yeah, with that in mind, Junkie has his name attached to a decent movie again. I’ll try to keep that in mind when his soundtrack for the impeding monstrosity that is Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice comes along.

All in all, this is a surprisingly decent action flick. The acting is good, with a damn nice performance from Common, the writing finally hits that layering that Neeson’s previous films have tried for but never quite reached with well-developed character relationships, the action beats are excellent, particularly the aforementioned apartment scene as well as the fight in the bathroom, and the score has Junkie XL putting his talents to a film that actually deserves them for once.

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