Skip to main content

I'm the only one ever cared about you. And all of that ended an hour ago when you killed my son.

Run All Night
(2015)

(SPOILERS) I quite like that we’re being “treated” to this never-ending run of Liam Neeson thrillers, some of which aren’t called Taken. None of them have actually been really good, but for a spell several have fooled you into thinking they might be. A common factor in the better ones is Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, a director stylish enough, but not nearly auteurish enough, to make the unofficial trilogy he’s completed with Neeson feel nothing at all like an unofficial trilogy.  


Run All Night is the best of the three, and like the others it kicks off with enough gumption – for a good hour – to suggest this will be a non-stop, edge-of-the-seat ride into the unknown. Or night, at any rate, as Neeson’s ex mob enforcer Jimy Conlon finds himself on the wrong side of his friend and boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) and has precious hours to make things right. But then, the movie just sort of loses steam, never really quite fizzling out but making you wish you hadn’t got vaguely excited for its potential.


Part of the initial appeal is the calibre of the cast. Neeson, increasingly adopting the star posture of an elder, more hirsute Jason Statham but with less sense of humour, has no option but to raise his game opposite the likes of Harris and Joel Kinnaman as estranged son Mike. And the actual premise is diverting, as Jimmy, formerly Jimmy the Gravedigger, now a drunk haunted by his many acts of murder, shoots Maguire’s unhinged son Danny (Boyd Holbrook, who also appeared with Neeson in the also half-decent A Walk Among the Tombstones) dead before he can kill Mike, who has witnessed Danny’s anti-social antics. Shawn, only hours before comforting Jimmy and promising “Wherever we’re going, when we cross that line, we’re going together”, doesn’t even like his son, but as a father he loves him and so promises furious vengeance; he’ll kill Mike and make Jimmy view the evidence, and then he’ll kill Jimmy.


So it’s up to Jimmy to make sure Mike survives the night, with some dyspeptic bonding en route, plus altercations with cops on the payroll, encounters with ones who aren’t (Vincent D’Onofrio in a stock role, but still solid), and small but memorable roles for Bruce McGill, Nick Nolte and Holt McCallanay. There’s a gripping car chase, a cat-and-mouse on a subway platform, a bruising fight in a men’s room, and several conversations and meets between Jimmy and Shawn. But then Shawn calls in hitman Common, who instantly susses that Jimmy has a cabin retreat (because people in thrillers always have cabin retreats, all the better for a showdown) but singularly fails to finish him and his son off when he gets the chance.


The momentum is lost from this point, and Jimmy even has time to visit his ailing ma in hospital before heading for a shootout with Shawn, whereupon he dispatches his friend with surprising swiftness. That’s a pleasant surprise in a way (not so much that it leads to an entirely predictable aftermath with Common at said cabin), but more a disappointment as one was hoping for something meaty; why cast Harris if you aren’t going to make the most of him? Brad Inglesby also co-wrote the ultimately disappointing Out of the Furnace (although the fault there, giving him the benefit of the doubt, may be Scott Cooper, who ensured Black Mass was less than the sum of its parts), and there’s a feeling this could have gone a number of ways, but ends up just slickly forgettable, withdrawing from any tendency to weightiness the premise offers.


Collet-Serra has little inclination for such contemplation, of course. He’s all about the veneer, but he’s good with veneer. His scenic transitions are a step too far, however, as he lifts off from one point in the city and arrives at the next in a single extended shot. It’s attention-grabbing, but not nearly as arresting as it sounds, and also at odds with what is, in essence, a down-and-dirty family drama. He’s complemented in his mission by a strong, tense, driving score from Junkie XL, which only pauses for the obligatory inclusion of The Pogues (it’s set at Christmas and features Irish-Americans, but one wonders how much the latter was due to Neeson’s involvement and how much the former sprang from a desire to include the band’s most famous song).


Neeson’s making it a Collet-Serra quadrilogy next, with The Commuter lining up for release (that’s Neeson, commutin’ and shootin’). I have no problem watching another of their collaborations; they’re far more fun than the Takens and, Collet-Serra’s a veritable Scorsese compared to the likes of Olivier Megaton, but there’s a nagging sense these two might actually makes something great together one day, if they made a pact to keep their peepers peeled for a really strong script.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

And my father was a real ugly man.

Marty (1955)
(SPOILERS) It might be the very unexceptional good-naturedness of Marty that explains its Best Picture Oscar success. Ernest Borgnine’s Best Actor win is perhaps more immediately understandable, a badge of recognition for versatility, having previously attracted attention for playing iron-wrought bastards. But Marty also took the Palme d’Or, and it’s curious that its artistically-inclined jury fell so heavily for its charms (it was the first American picture to win the award; Lost Weekend won the Grand Prix when that was still the top award).

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.

Doctor Sleep (2019)
(SPOILERS) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times be difficult due to the overt referencing, it’s an affecting and often effective tale of personal redemption and facing the – in this case literal – ghosts of one’s past.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

It’s like being smothered in beige.

The Good Liar (2019)
(SPOILERS) I probably ought to have twigged, based on the specific setting of The Good Liar that World War II would be involved – ten years ago, rather than the present day, so making the involvement of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren just about believable – but I really wish it hadn’t been. Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay, adapting Nicholas Searle’s 2016 novel, offers a nifty little conning-the-conman tale that would work much, much better without the ungainly backstory and motivation that impose themselves about halfway through and then get paid off with equal lack of finesse.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984)
If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisions may be vi…