Nothing is more conducive to father-son bonding than a guy and his kid both having the Irish mob after them.
That’s the casually bonkers sentiment at the heart of Liam Neeson’s latest gritty action vehicle, “Run All Night” — a movie that actually delivers its crazy premise with conviction, for a while, anyway. If director Jaume Collet-Serra (Neeson’s “Non-Stop” and “Unknown”) managed to put together an entire movie as tonally sharp as “Run All Night” starts out, it could rate as a top-shelf genre entry. But the story loses its convincingly scaled sense of jeopardy in the late going, and it ultimately unravels.
Neeson sheds a little of his familiar weary nobility as Jimmy Conlon, a New York hit man at one time lethal enough to have earned the tabloid moniker “The Gravedigger,” but now a haunted, down-and-out drunk. He’s been reduced to mooching handouts from old friend and outer-borough kingpin Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), even agreeing to an amusingly demeaning gig as Santa at the Maguire family Christmas party. This latest insult is the idea of Shawn’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook, “Gone Girl”), a swaggering punk who soon gets in over his head trying to partner up with big-time heroin pushers. Trouble is, when cornered Danny starts shooting, Jimmy’s straight-arrow adult son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman, “RoboCop”), ends up being a chance witness — and Danny’s next target.
Long estranged from his pop, Michael bitterly refuses any help when Jimmy comes knocking. Still, Jimmy lingers long enough to catch Danny breaking into Michael’s house, instinctively shooting and killing him. So much for those decades-old ties with Harris’s quietly menacing heavy hitter. Shawn vows to have Jimmy’s son killed as retribution, Jimmy vows to stop him, and the Conlons’ night-long sprint for survival is on.
The film’s taut elements and character dynamics unspool compellingly for a long stretch. Neeson certainly knows his way around this neighborhood from “Taken,” etc., and Kinnaman’s lanky, brooding toughness makes for a good filial match. Harris and Neeson are coolly electric in a temporary cease-fire scene that’s all mournfulness, simmering vengefulness, and craggy close-ups. And a chase sequence with Neeson pursuing a squad car is semi-novel, not to mention brutally thrilling.
Satisfying as all of this is, you have to wonder: Why weren’t the filmmakers satisfied? In the first of a few bad ideas that Collet-Sera starts piling on, rapper/actor/Oscar-winner (“Selma” ) Common shows up as Harris’s desperate-measures contractor. He’s a killer whose prim relentlessness and baffling night-vision monocle make him seem like he must have been looking for the new “Terminator” auditions down the hall. Even more superfluous is Nick Nolte, who drops by as Neeson’s ponytailed brother for a scene to handle a clunky, equally distracting flashback. And as much as we can roll with that car chase getting out of hand, a foot chase that brings down virtually an entire apartment block is crime drama gone off the rails.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.