THE INCREASINGLY LUDICROUS Taken series may pay the bills, but Liam Neeson's action renaissance phase has also generated a number of less flashy and more interesting B pictures. More specifically, 2011's Unknown and last year's Non-Stop, both directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, have stuck a intriguing balance between knowing when to subvert genre conventions and when to just put the pedal down and cruise. Run All Night, the third collaboration for the duo, takes a number of elements that should seem old hat by now—regretful hitmen, broadly New York mob guys, Ed Harris doing his whisper-shout-whisper thing—and successfully wrings them for something reasonably taut and occasionally unfashionably grim.
Introduced via flash-forward, Neeson plays a once-legendary triggerman turned stumbling pub fixture. When his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) sees something he shouldn't, the two must do what the title says. A fairly amazing assortment of grizzled character actors obligingly pop up for the star to bludgeon his way through. Collet-Serra, who first proved his chops with the nutso cult horror film Orphan, keeps things hopping, utilizing some nifty Google Earth transitions between scenes and steadily hurtling his protagonists into a succession of ever-more-enclosed spaces, with results that generally reduce the surroundings to matchsticks.
Some premises were born for 90 minutes, and Run All Night undeniably begins to lose some of its old-school impact as it creeps toward two hours. (A subplot involving a high-tech assassin played by Common feels like studio-mandated padding, no matter how cool his guns are.) Even if it doesn't always deliver on its stripped-down promise, though, Run All Night deserves a healthy measure of respect for unearthing a rich, world-weary vein of noir fatalism. It'd punch you if it could.