Well I'm Quite Taken With It: 'Run All Night' Review
A lot of those young actors with a lot of movie cred do that thing where they star in the paycheck film and then go back and do the little indie film for peanuts, awards, and artistic satisfaction. The clever part about it is the way that many of them manage to have the small films reflect the big films. So Duplass does broad raunchy comedy for the meal ticket and influence, and then gets to do the small indie comedies. But even though good actors are distinct in every role, they’re different masks on the same face, so there’s an echo of each work in the other.
Liam Neeson does the same thing except with an even more narrow focus. He makes really shitty brooding action films (usually with the word “Taken” in the title) that make an insane amount of money and then he turns around to make really good brooding action movies that make nowhere near as much money, but are all advertised as basically Taken Lite. Neeson has a very specific set of skills people, and he uses them for paychecks and art. He put out the excellent A Walk Among the Tombstones last year, and Run All Night (despite sounding like a sequel to A Night at the Roxbury) continues the run.
Run All Night is a good solid R action movie. It doesn’t do anything surprising, it doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it does exactly what it sets out to and does it well. Good acting and a good script can elevate the run of the mill into something much more entertaining and meaningful. A story of an old killer seeking redemption in the eyes of his son in most hands is cliché, but with Neeson’s gravity and the quality writing and direction in play, it makes the material fresh again, so we see why certain things became clichés in the first place.
It reminded me of Unforgiven in the way it focused heavily on the weight that doing violence levels upon men. It’s not as good as that classic, but it has that same feeling, of dangerous men who do dangerous things, and drown themselves in alcohol to stop the faces and names from replaying over and over again in their heads. Of how some bad men still have good men inside them, and that the terrible things they’ve done can sometimes be needed still for the greater good.
And like Unforgiven, it’s also an excellent action film, with a number of set piece sequences that are violent, but also have the ring of authenticity to them. There’s a palpable tension, of real injury and real violence being done rather than it all being cartoonish. Bullets that miss hammer into objects with a savagery that pushes you back in your seat even as the actors flinch away from every single one, bullets that hit flesh tend to at the very least terribly wound people. It’s amazing how such a little touch like that can make a movie terrifying and tense, all while exposing just how silly so many other films are that pretend to be about violence but are really just kids shouting “blam-blam” while playing cops and robbers.
The movie’s best moments come at the quiet times. The ones between gun fights and car chases, when the seriousness of the dialogue and the characters is ramped up instead of being allowed to wane. The actors are allowed to do heavy lifting, with few words, and speaking volumes with their eyes. And it takes its time setting it all up, allowing us to swim with the characters in their everyday lives, not just to let them marinate, but to move the chess pieces into position so that we appreciate the board when the action begins, so that it all has context and purpose.
Run All Night isn’t going to make any top ten lists, but it’s the sort of movie that makes the paycheck movies worth going through in the first place.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.
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