May Issue 2015

By | Movies | Published 9 years ago

With Run All Night, director Jaume Collet-Serra and actor Liam Neeson have completed a quasi-trilogy. Rather inadvertently, the two have managed to create a set of films better than the insufferable Taken trilogy, which also stars Liam Neeson.

It’s funny that films from these two trilogies have come out one after the other. Three years after the first Taken, Unknown was released. Then there was Taken 2. Next came Non-Stop. Then of course Taken 3. And finally, Run All Night. Granted, Collet-Serra’s films are by no means masterpieces, but they show what it’s like when Liam Neeson gets a half-decent script, rather than a script for an unnecessary sequel. The Taken films should have stopped after the first one, but they overstayed their welcome. This ‘alternative’ trilogy, running parallel to the Taken one, is an ironic commentary on what is wrong with Hollywood action films.

In the first Taken, Bryan Mills’ daughter gets taken, in the second, he gets taken, and in the third, his wife’s life gets taken. In all three films, he takes to task all those who have harmed his family, first in Paris, then in Istanbul, and finally in Los Angeles. It’s exhausting to watch — and even Mills looks exhausted, if not in Paris, then a little bit in Istanbul and most certainly in Los Angeles. The foreigners are mostly stereotypical representations, especially the Albanian villains in the first two films.

The first Taken started this trend of geriatric men going around rescuing family members, and killing lots of evil-looking foreigners in the process. At its core, even Run All Night is the same. But as compared to the other six films, it ranks among the better ones.

Here Neeson plays former Irish mobster Jimmy ‘The Gravedigger’ Conlon, a drunk mess in the present, with a son Mike (Joel Kinnaman), who wants nothing to do with his dad. Mike is a retired professional boxer, who now works with street children. He has a wife and two children of his own. Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) is Jimmy’s best friend and also former boss.

The shadow of the past hangs over all the characters. What they are in the present is dictated to a great extent by what they have done in the past. Jimmy ‘was’ a mobster and his son ‘was’ a boxer whose boss ‘was’ Shawn. Shawn has a son, Danny, a wannabe gangster who gets caught up in a drug deal gone wrong. After Mike witnesses Danny murdering Albanian drug dealers, the film changes track.

Jimmy now has to make sure that Mike won’t testify against Danny, but the latter wants to kill Mike and destroy any trace linking him to the murders. By default, Jimmy gets sucked back into the crime world, in order to protect his son. And this pits him directly against Shawn, who naturally wants to protect his own son. The fathers, once best friends and colleagues, become sworn enemies.

It’s a cracking set-up and it’s great to see Liam Neeson and Ed Harris pitted against each other. I think this is the main ingredient that makes Run All Night a better film than any Taken. Naturally, a lot of emphasis is placed on the action scenes, but that is just one aspect of the film. Alongside there is a layered plot of fathers and sons and the burden of crime passed on from one generation to the next.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s May 2015 issue under the headline, “Fathers and Sons.”

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany