We expect Liam Neeson to be the star in an action movie, to somehow be invincible amidst the hail of bullet fire and, despite his AARP-status age, still prevail in hand-to-hand fighting against much younger opponents. Somehow, when he means business, we believe in him and we root for him.
That’s why it’s kind of a shock to see him take a part that is not entirely sympathetic, or especially invincible either. In “Run All Night,” the veteran actor plays Jimmy Conlon, a man who’s obviously battling with his demons… and losing. It seems he’s spent much of his younger years being the triggerman for an Irish mafia family in New York City. Now, he lives alone, drinks too much and finds himself begging for rent money from his former employer, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), who’s now in his older years and trying to “go straight” and run legitimate businesses. Jimmy had a family, a wife and son, whom he left long ago because, he told himself, he was protecting them. His ex-wife has since died, and his now-grown son, Michael (Joel Kinneman), has never forgiven his father and wants nothing to do with him. Nor will he allow his father to see his family, his lovely wife, Gabriela (Genesis Rodriguez), and his two beautiful young daughters. This, of course, is especially tortuous to Jimmy, but he figures he’s made his decisions and he’s now living with the consequences. He just doesn’t want his son involved in any way in the kind of life he led.
It all changes one night when Michael, in his capacity as a professional limousine drive, winds up being a witness to a mob hit orchestrated by Shawn Maguire’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), a wannabe thug who is disappointed that his father seems to want to leave that life behind while he still can. Danny realizes that he’s endangered himself by leaving Michael alive as the only witness to his crime, so he goes after Michael. The only one to protect him is… you guessed it, his dad, Jimmy, who suddenly sobers up quickly when the bullets start flying.
Jimmy successfully defends Michael, but now Shawn has vowed revenge on them both. The rest of the movie is essentially a series of chase scenes where it seems the whole city is after them. Yes, crooked cops are in on this, too, so the corruption is disturbingly pervasive. Some of the personal violence scenes are fairly disturbing, especially Shawn hugging his son’s best friend, then literally stabbing him in the back for not providing better protection.
In the end, of course, no one is left unscathed by the bitter blood feud. Neeson, limping and wounded, staggers his way to the ending, and we too are spent and exhausted, but at least there’s a laudable goal here: keeping Michael and his family clean and intact. Inexplicably, we find ourselves rooting for that, as if their end-time salvation somehow redeems all the utter brutality before it.
Well, we Presbyterians are suckers, anyway, for end-time salvation redeeming all the utter brutality before it, aren’t we?
Ronald P. Salfen is the supply pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Kaufman, Texas.