Run All Night full movie review - Good, but not quite character-driven and not quite plot-driven
"Run All Night" is an enjoyably film that is worth a second viewing to catch its subtle nuances. Yet, it's frustrating because it does not live up to its full potential.
It's a good film, but falls short of being a great film in part because the screenwriter couldn't choose between making the story character driven or plot driven or failed to find a suitable balance.
The movie has many excellent qualities. Performances are superb, particularly from Neeson and Harris, but also by the supporting cast. Lighting is excellent, even in the low-key scenes. There are a lot of difficult shots at night and through windows and in moving cars and trains that are handled adeptly. The transitions shots are excellent. But the camera-work is uneven with way too many distracting jigglycam shots. The camera actually seems steadier on a moving elevated train than in an early restaurant scene. Costumes, set design, make-up and other elements are more than adequate.
The action scenes are generally better than average, but of uneven quality. The car chase was good, but not great. The men's room fight scene was evocative of the opening scene in "Casino Royale," but paled by comparison. A fight in a burning building with one participant's clothes aflame, using burning table legs was impressive. Gunfights are uneven. Jimmy nearly misses Danny, but later drops five guys with five shots. Price has a laser sight on his pistol but it's only there for visual effects. He doesn't seem to use it to aim his shots except when aiming at Jimmy to give him a chance to duck out of the way.
This is a story with a lot of background. The characters have complex relationships with one another and with their neighborhood. But often the background is posited as motivating the characters, but not explained sufficiently to make their actions seem credible. Why does Price say he will kill Conlon for free? Why do Jimmy and Frank dislike each other to the point of going out of their way to insult one another?
Many of the motivations seem unclear. Why doesn't Danny simply repay the Albanians? There is the suggestion that he's spent their money on cocaine over the past nine months, but why would the Albanians pay a cokehead upfront and wait patiently for nine months for him to arrange a meeting?
Why are the crooked cops so willing/eager to become hired assassins? Danny gives them about two grand apiece as a Christmas bonus. It seems enough for them to look the other way, but not enough to pull the trigger.
Instead of protecting his pregnant wife and children, Mike decides he needs to find Curtis, who isn't answering his phone. Earlier Mike suggested he might call Curtis's mother, but perhaps he was bluffing because that doesn't seem to be an option. Curtis witnessed Danny killing one of the Albanians, but Danny is dead and nobody else knows Curtis was a witness. Shawn's crew doesn't know about Curtis and isn't looking for him, but Mike leads them to Curtis's building once he's recognized there. Curtis has a video that proves Mike is innocent of killing the Albanian, but the police are after him for killing a cop. We see a lot of white policemen rousting indigent blacks from a surprisingly well-tended public housing unit that is set ablaze through the carelessness of one of the tenants and apparently allowed to burn down since we see plenty of police cars and helicopters, but no fire trucks. There seems to be some sort of politically incorrect political statement in there somewhere.
The inciting incident seems hopelessly contrived. Why would the Albanian drug dealers hire a limousine? Wouldn't they want to keep a low profile? Mike is an ex-boxer who just happens to have skills he will need to survive. Curtis just happens to be taping a video selfie when he manages to record a murder. Somebody sprained a wrist, forcing Mike to miss a party and take an extra shift. The limo driver happens to be Jimmy's son and to know the people involved.
The film attempts to establish a moral that Jimmy must pay for his sins, but he doesn't. The situation would not be much different if Jimmy were Shawn's brother and had never killed anybody in his life. He dies because he wants to save his son, not because of his prior acts.
Some incidents seem elaborately contrived to provide an excuse for action scenes. The hockey game does not propel the plot but eventually provides a means of escape. Curtis adds little to the story, but provides an excuse for an intricate fight/chase scene. The ticking clock alluded to in the title seems artificial, as there is no particular reason that everything needs to be concluded by morning.
Jimmy is insistent that Jimmy never shoot anybody because he will become no better than Jimmy. This seems like a solid moral for the story, but at the burning building, Jimmy persuades Mike not to shoot Price which immediately results in three police officers being shot.
The cabin is a nice unifying theme. It's background for the image Mike wants to hide in Gabriela's poster that he later puts on his mirror and the setting for the bookend scenes and a clue for Price. It's a symbol of happier times when Jimmy and Mike were family. But how can Jimmy afford to keep it? He lives in a modest apartment, drives an old car, needs to borrow money and takes a degrading job playing Santa.
Overall, it's an enjoyable action film, but much of the action doesn't seem to result either as a necessary consequence of prior events or as something the characters are driven to do.