★ ★ ★
Hitmen have feelings too, everybody. Take, for example, prolific Irish assassin Jimmy Conlon. His conscience has finally caught up with his job killing people for a living, prompted when one of his victims happens to share his DNA. When he’s suddenly forced out of retirement, all of that pent-up regret and self-loathing means that he has nothing to lose; it’s for this reason that the crime thriller Run All Night turns out to be a fun and frenetic ride through New York City. Suffice it to say, fans of the genre won’t be disappointed as they inevitably fight the urge to hide behind their popcorn in this predictable yet satisfying, shoot-first-ask-questions-never mobster fairytale.
Run All Night stars Liam Neeson as Jimmy, a former “cleaner” for his best friend, crime boss-turned-legit businessman Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Pals since childhood, Jimmy idolizes Shawn to the point of allowing himself to become a royal fool in the court of his post-mobster kingdom—quite literally, as when Shawn’s spoiled, drug-addicted son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) forces him to play Santa Claus at their family Christmas party. Drunk and feeling humiliated in front of his idol, Jimmy degrades himself even further by lewdly propositioning a fellow mobster’s wife while the woman’s young son sits on his knee. Later, Shawn looks on with pity as Jimmy is shoved under a cold shower, oblivious to the fact that someone hired to kill people at his behest might be having a little trouble dealing with it.
Or more than a little trouble, it seems. All of that killing appears to have triggered a severe case of PTSD. Abandoning his wife and son, drinking himself into oblivion, and dealing with tortuous flashbacks to his 17 murders (one being a close relative), Jimmy is trapped in a hell of his own making. For those Neeson fans expecting the same strong, unflappable, “special set of skills” character from the Taken trilogy, Jimmy’s status as a pathetic lackey might be a little disappointing at first. But fear not: The minute he discovers that his son’s life is at stake, he sobers up in a jiffy.
The plot begins to accelerate due to a series of extremely unfortunate and somewhat improbable events involving Danny, a couple of Albanian drug dealers, and Jimmy’s own estranged progeny Mike (Joel Kinnaman). Mike has the misfortune of transporting the Albanians to Danny’s house in the limo he drives when he’s not teaching boxing to at-risk boys. Soon enough, he becomes an unwitting witness to the kind of wrong-place, wrong-time situation that would likely call for his immediate demise. However, when Jimmy gets wind of a plan to kill his son, Danny quickly becomes victim number 18 and Shawn vows swift, “I’m comin’ after your boy with everything I got” mobster revenge. This is the point in the film where the pedal and the metal unite.
Set almost entirely at night (the plot takes place over the course of 16 hours), the movie evokes a mood of dread that magnifies the nightmare of Jimmy’s predicament. Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s version of New York is an ominous place after dark, illuminated only by glaring headlights, street lamps, and gunfire. A scene of over-the-top violence that decimates a subway-station bathroom looks and feels like the end of the world—and for one unlucky mobster, it is.
Neeson and Collet-Serra did most of this already (albeit at 30,000 feet) in their previous collaboration, the 2014 airplane thriller Non-Stop. Neeson’s roles in the two films might seem interchangeable at first, right down to the alcoholism and the constant hissing of threats into cell phones in the actor’s trademark whisper-growl voice. Upon closer inspection, though, Jimmy differs in having zero interest in self-preservation, choosing from the beginning to literally take all the shots while protecting a son who hates him.
Kinnaman is intense yet vulnerable as Mike, who is processing conflicting feelings about his father’s return. And it’s fun to watch Vincent D’Onofrio as the only cop Jimmy can trust and rapper Common as the Energizer Bunny of assassins, both of whom are chasing father and son around the city (although for very different purposes).
Run All Night might not be original or a message movie or even a film that will be debated during the drive home, but action fans won’t want to be anywhere else for one hour and 54 minutes in a theater.