Box Office Democracy: “Run All Night”
When exactly did we decide Liam Neeson is the new paragon of action movies? I’m not even sure I can name the second biggest star in action movies right now in terms of output or cultural cachet. If someone anywhere in the world right now is making a joke about a hypothetical action movie I bet it stars Neeson. Run All Night is Neeson’s second collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra after last year’s Non-Stop, which was widely derided as “Taken on a plane”. They’re back this time hopefully not in an attempt to prove their incredible creative range as Run All Night is essentially Taken but if the child was a boy instead of a girl; it is not a lot of fun.
It has been suggested to me recently that the reason I don’t connect well with the Taken films is because they’re primarily aimed at women. That Bryan Mills is supposed to be a troubled but infallible sexualized fatherly hero saving a woman facing the oversized version of everyday fears. Run All Night is a clear attempt to bring this formula to a male audience. Gone are the imperiled female characters, in fact gone are almost any women with speaking parts, replaced with a son (played by Joel Kinnaman) who is marked for death after a mafia misunderstanding. Where Taken is violent and abrupt it is a PG-13 style of violence where people crumple quickly and the camera never lingers too long, conversely Run All Night is a gleeful R with all of the blood and the long strangling scenes that rating allows for. One strong advantage Run All Night has is a strong antagonist in Ed Harris. His version of the aging gangster kingpin is not the most original but Harris is much too good for this material and consistently knocks it out of the park. His scenes are the best in the movie and it speaks to his ability of an actor that he can be such a compelling character but I never felt drawn to root for him, that can be a fine line.
I like a good clichéd action movie script so I was stunned to have such a problem with the way Run All Night is put together. I know all of the beats here by heart, alcoholic hero, corrupt cops, a childhood connection between the hero and the villain that is typified by sayings that are both sweet and very morbid, they even trout out the climax in the middle of nowhere classic last seen working very well in Skyfall. I don’t mind seeing all these bits again, this kind of narrative shorthand works great in the action genre because we’re not there to be compelled by tricky narrative but to marvel at the new way they can present what we’ve already seen. While I’m not sure taking the most overexposed action star of the moment and give him the same basic motivation he has in his most famous franchise carries that burden but it does ok, that’s not the problem: the problem is that the story feels so aimless. Up until very late in the film I had no idea what our protagonists were trying to do. Did they want to escape the city and run away? Did they want to destroy the people who were chasing them? When would they feel like they won? If all I have to root for is for the characters to evade their captors and get to the next scene it’s much harder to sustain and that’s where Run All Night hits its biggest stumbling block, it’s not enough to know who to root for, I need something to root for.
I also simply hate how Run All Night looks. It feels like every transition means the camera goes through a wall, floor or ceiling. There’s a constant thunderstorm raging in the sky when it can be used to add drama to the beginning or end of the scene. The streets are always slick with the rain that only falls for the briefest flashes despite the constant lightning (I won’t even get in to how this thunderstorm besieged New York City is supposed to be immediately before Christmas). Run All Night needs to always look as cool as possible but hasn’t updated its definition of cool since the late 90s. The entire visual feel of the movie feels like talking to an awkward relative who still talks about “getting jiggy” with stuff but no amount of awkward chuckling would make Run All Night shuffle along and talk to someone else.