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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Run All Night

RUN ALL NIGHT (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Jaume Collet-Serra, 2015.

Why doesn’t Liam Neeson make movies today like Schindler’s List or Michael Collins?

In any case, Liam Neeson’s late-career blossoming as a fatherly, soulful  action star– which commenced with the genuinely absurd, if genuinely exciting melodrama Taken — continues apace with the not quite as absurd and  somewhat more exciting Run All Night   — a movie with lots of people getting killed (many of them by Neeson‘s screen character), and lots of explosions, car-chases and gunfights, raging all around and about New York City. All this carnage is sometimes skillfully done by director Jaume Collet-Serra and his gang, and sometimes movingly executed by Neeson,  an actor who gives these crash-a-thons and killfests more soulfulness, and more fatherliness,  than they really deserve.

This time out, Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a drunken, melancholy  and timeworn hit man, nicknamed “The Gravedigger,” whose life has fallen to pieces, and who tells us his story, while seemingly dying in the woods on Christmas Day, with his would-be killer lurking nearby. “I’ve done some terrible things in my life,“ whispers Catholic Jimmy, yearning for expiation and last rites, “Things for which I cannot be forgiven.”  But he’ll try — and his final race toward damnation and redemption begins sixteen hours earlier, after being humiliated in a bar and at a Christmas party (where he played a very bad Santa) by an awful young man named Danny Maguire (Boyd Holbrook), who was the son of his only remaining friend, ex-boyhood pal, lifelong employer , and now rich and famous (and perhaps soon to be retired) mobster Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris).

Jimmy runs afoul of Shawn, by killing his worthless but nonetheless well-loved son Danny, who unwisely tries to involve Shawn with some reckless Albanian heroin dealers (an offer Shawn, like Don Corleone, refuses). The Albanians (from whom Danny has already been paid his finder’s fee and spent it) are then unwisely massacred by the impetuous youth, who then tries to kill the limo  driver who witnessed these murders, a driver who turns out to be Jimmy’s only son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman).

Unfortunately for everybody, Danny is right in Michael’s father’s gunsight when he tries to kill Michael. And soon father Jimmy and son  (a straight arrow who hates his father‘s profession)– are being pursued by Shawn, his gang, the cops — especially the bad-tempered Detective Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio) who has been after Shawn and Jimmy for decades — Shawn’s new favored hit man Andrew Price (Common), and what seems to be half the boroughs of New York and half the mountains in Albania.

An oddity in Brad Ingelsby‘s script: It was Jimmy who killed Danny, blowing him away just as he’s about to shoot Michael. But it’s Michael whom Shawn has designated as the main victim, to be followed by Jimmy, of course, but only after Jimmy knows that his own son has been killed. Why didn’t writer Ingelsby and director Jaume Collet-Serra (who also helmed Neeson in the even more implausible Unknown and Non-Stop) simply have Michael be the one who, in self defense, killed Danny?

In any case, Jimmy, who hasn’t been much of a father up to now (Michael complains that he was always leaving guns around the house) is now the only man in New York, it seems who can keep Michael alive — pursued as he is by crooks, cops, killers and various other bad and good people with or without guns — including Bruce McGill (who once played Hemingway and also one of the Delta House boys and here is Shawn‘s consigliere) and a haggard-looking Nick Nolte (as Jimmy‘s brother), reciting a few lines for which we hope he was very well paid.

While the Spanish-born Collet-Serra covers all the action by zipping from one location to another via sped-up helicopter shots and zooms, the filmmakers liven up the night by staging a fire in a housing project (home of another potential witness, a kid named “Legs” Banks (Aubrey Joseph)) — and also a police car chase, a race through a night-drenched train yard and many, many gunfights. All this is apparently remembered by Jimmy (including of course everything he saw and also everything he didn‘t see, including what happened in the empty room where the fire started), or maybe watched by some helicopter-borne priest granting absolution to everybody fit for it, or likeliest of all, by God himself , seated at His heavenly computer, banging away at a list of all the sins, venial and mortal and otherwise, being committed in Jimmy’s last 16 hours as — this man alone finally employing his deadly talents for good instead of evil — he wends his soulful, fatherly way   the soulful, fatherly yet bloody climax we know is coming. And to Purgatory. Or wherever.


I must say I liked all this better than the other Collet-Serra  nightmares and the Luc Besson shoot-‘em-ups Neeson has been shooting, mostly because Jimmy Conlon and Shawn Maguire are more interesting characters than Takwn‘s Superdad. Ed Harris’s flair for wounded stares has rarely been as well-deployed.

So. Why can’t Liam make movies today like Schindler’s List or Michael Collins — movies where his heroic stature would pay off in more than car-chases and gunfights and clichés, endlessly repeated?   The basic absurdity of these stories — the notion that Neeson’s Jimmy is capable of battling it out all night with what seems a small army of bad guys —  is on nutty display here too. And as the absurdity ante is upped, and things get loonier and loonier, it’s only the actors, Nolte’s squib role  included, who keep things whipping along.

There are certainly better Irish hit man thrillers than this one — Mike Hodges’ (not very well-reviewed) A Prayer for the Dying, for example. In that movie, Mickey Rourke had the Neeson part and Neeson had a  supporting role,  and since then, a lot of blood has gone under the bridge. Run All Night, a movie derived from other movies, is entertaining enough. But we’d be better served  if this talented cast and company were expending their energies on, say, a brilliant script like F. L. Green’s for the 1947 Carol Reed I.R.A. man-on-the-run masterpiece Odd Man Out. There an immense schism between a movie like Odd Man Out and a movie like Run All Night, and unfortunately that bridge isn’t crossed often enough.

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2 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: Run All Night”

  1. Irv Slifkin says:

    This is could be the first defense of “A Prayer for the Dying” I’ve ever read. Glad you enjoyed it Mr. Wilmington, but I always thought it was a mess-of-a-movie that could’ve been a contender. The cast and dirtector were there, but something went awry.

  2. Daniella Isaacs says:

    “Why can’t Liam make movies today like Schindler’s List or Michael Collins?” Let’s face it, Neeson, an enormously likable performer, who would have done well, methinks, under the old studio system, where he would have had scripts written to take advantage of his talents, isn’t a particularly good actor for heavy drama. (Most of us, I suspect, would like to see him do more movies like LOVE ACTUALLY–*like* LOVE ACTUALLY, except… actually good.) Critics almost unanimously pointed out that he was, in fact, a weak link in SCHINDLER’S LIST–while he was Oscar nominated, he was never considered an actual contender for the win that year, which, considering the juggernaut of that film that awards season, should tell you something. He also didn’t really do much for KINSEY, did he? He’s really someone who kind of lucked into his few A-list prestige pictures back in the day and wound up finding his groove in these action pictures. Let’s put it another way: “Why can’t Liam make movies today like Schindler’s List or Michael Collins?” Likely because Scorsese, Ang Lee, etc. aren’t calling him. He is a working actor, in the final analysis, and he wants to do SOMETHING. I guess he could do low-budget indies, but he’s probably more content to make oodles of money to support his family.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

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