Anyone thinking Run All Night is another Taken would definitely be wrong. There is a connecting theme between the two, that being Liam Neeson as a father whose past as a violent professional estranges him from his family. Taken is a power fantasy, though: Neeson as father knows best, barreling through waves of enemies (mostly foreigners) with little to no distinctive identity. The emphasis is always on Neeson’s skill once the action begins. By contrast, Run All Night presents Neeson–portraying Jimmy Conlon, a burnt out mob hitman, living on the compassion of his boss and friend Shawn (Ed Harris)–as ragged and tired. He’s estranged from his son Michael (Joel Kinnamon), haunted by his various assassinations, and already on shaky grounds with his associates (due to being a drunk) before he ends up killing Shawn’s only son to defend Michael. This puts Jimmy and Michael in the crosshairs of Shawn, crooked cops, another hitman, and an honest detective trying to bring them all down. Throughout the film, director Jaume Collet-Serra uses every opportunity to hurt Jimmy: bruises and cuts mark up his heavily-lined face (on display courtesy Martin Ruhe’s photography); a bad fall causes him to limp for the rest of the film; bullet wounds late in the third act are met with searing winces and struggled movement; every chance to plead for his son’s life falls on ears too grief-stricken and power-mad to listen. Every fight is hard won, victory even eliciting surprise. Neeson is capable, but always fighting from a position of weakness.
Collet-Serra toyed with his star as underdog before, in Unknown and Non-Stop. He even deploys a similar, techno-thriller language here. Camera movements are in gridlike zooms and pans, following along New York streets and rail lines. Plot points are communicated and setpieces transition on screens of data–CCTVs, smartphones, network television. The hitman sent to whack the father/son duo uses a hands-free phone (intercepting police chatter) and a night-vision eyepiece to track them (a shootout in a darkened stairwell, lit by gunfire and tech, could easily have come from The Terminator). Grids even permeate dialogue in one recurring exchange between Jimmy and Shawn: “We’ll cross that line together.” For an old-school mobster like Jimmy, technology is another disadvantage, something everyone else has over him. Ironically, it plays the greatest part in the younger Conlon’s salvation. Jimmy is merely a facilitator, keeping Michael alive long enough for justice to prevail–the real dramatic weight in the mending of a broken relationship, tied directly to the father confessing/letting go of his sins. Even saving the day, Neeson finds his particular set of skills are no longer enough.