Maybe it’s best that Liam Neeson has declared his impending retirement from action movies. Some of them have been damn fine B-grade cinema — namely the cult classic Taken and oft overlooked The Grey — but the lion’s share are dull, repetitious, and formulaic. Case in point: Run All Night. It has a good gimmick and noir sensibilities, but like so many other one-note action flicks it goes nowhere fast.
Once again, the Neesons is called upon to rescue his estranged child. This time it’s a son, Michael Conlon (Joel Kinneman). Neeson is Jimmy Conlon, a burnt-out, down-on-his-luck triggerman for local mobster Shawn Maguire (a suitably grizzled Ed Harris), who made his fortune in the ’70s and ’80s by running drugs, prostitutes, rackets, and just about everything else. These days he’s set up as a legitimate businessman — at least on the surface — and when his generically degenerate screw-up son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), tries to get a deal going with Albanian heroin dealers, the old man goes ballistic. The fallout results in an overly contrived series of events that finds Michael seeing too much, Danny dead at Jimmy’s hand, and both of them hunted by the police and Maguire’s men.
Much of what happens after that consists of Jimmy trying to make nice with Michael, Michael fretting over his family’s safety, Vincent D’Onofrio trying his best to liven things up as a dogged NYPD detective, Maquire delivering faux-Godfather monologues, and rapper-turned-actor Common as a professional hitman in the ’90s mold who pops up every few minutes to be menacing, with the necessary gunfights, fistfights, and car-chases occurring exactly when you’d expect them to.
In all fairness, the action is well-choreographed and an extended sequence in a tenement highrise that does rise above the norm, but that alone isn’t enough to perk up an otherwise limp thriller/crime drama that is strictly by the numbers. it’s not balls-to-the-wall enough to qualify as pure spectacle, and the hollow “Where did we go wrong?” sorrow and “Those were the good ol’ days” reminiscences don’t really cut it as crime drama. If there’s a crime to found here, it’s strictly an open-and-shut case of a perfectly good cast wasted on a sub-par movie.
Movie review: ’71
A disarmingly effective blend of “a night on the run” thriller and historical/political drama, ’71 is one of those rare movies that catches viewers almost completely off-guard and leaves the rattled to the core.
Writer Gregory Burke and director Yann Demange, both television veterans making their feature film debut, stick with the notion that less is more and wring considerable tension, from a simple set-up.
Jack O’Connell (Unbroken) stars as Private Gary Hook, an ersatz single father to his much younger brother and a British soldier stationed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1971 — the year when the bitter hostilities between the Catholic IRA and the Protestant UVF erupted into brutal violence that fell just short of open warfare. Pvt. Hook’s unit is ostensibly there to keep the peace, a mission his well-meaning commanding officer (Sam Reid) approaches earnestly to the point of sending his men into the thick of it without riot gear.
The city is a pressure cooker of tensions, not just between the IRA and the Loyalists, but also the IRA and their more hot-tempered, violent, and younger counterparts in the Provisional Irish Republican Army splinter group. A sweep for illegal guns in a nearby neighborhood quickly goes to hell thanks to police brutality, leading to a riot that culminates with the murder of a wounded British by the Provos and an disarmed Hook being separated from his unit and forced to spend the night running for his life.
Hook’s situation creates a ripple effect on an already shaky status quo. The Provos are determined to shoot him on sight, a decision that infuriates the local IRA leader, Boyle (David Wilmot). Paradoxically, Boyle is in bed with the Military Reaction Force, a group of plainclothes soldiers led by Captain Browning (Sean Harris) who are involved in some questionable and extralegal counterinsurgency activities. All three factions want Hook dead for different reasons; Hook only knows that he has to navigate a no-man’s land of Catholic and Protestant enmity in order to survive the night.
O’Connell was a high point in the otherwise tepid and by-the-numbers Unbroken, and he really shines in this gritty drama. He projects a mix of wild-eyed fear and determination that is almost palpable, and he keeps us invested in the story even when the camera is off him and the subplots start to feel like tangents.
Fair warning: ’71 isn’t the movie to look to for an in-depth examination of a conflict that almost rivals the Spanish Civil War in terms of factional complexity. The premise doesn’t really allow for that anyway. However, Demange and Burke successfully plumb the height of the tensions and depths of the hatreds that defined the Troubles, pinging between parties who want each other dead as much as they do Hook — even when they’re supposed to be allies. “These are the front lines, boys,” Hook is told early. “Catholics and Protestants living side by side, at each other’s throats.” When the young soldier’s long, dark night of the soul is over, the heart of the conflict is no clearer to him or us, but its terrible toll is obvious.