REVIEW: “Run All Night”

RUN poster

There are several common threads that run through amost every Liam Neeson film so that you know what to expect. Since the always likable Irishman redefined himself with 2008’s “Taken”, he has become a bona fide action star. Armed with his signature gravelly voice, some clever one-liners, and particular sets of skills, Neeson has created his own unique brand of action movie and audiences normally have an idea of what they are going to get.

But sometimes Neeson adds a twist – something different to his successful formula. We get an example of that in “Run All Night”, a crime thriller from Spanish director and frequent Neeson collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra. Set (mostly) over the course of one night and spanning across a night-lit New York City, the film is a fast paced, high stakes game of cat and mouse laced with an assortment of complicated relationships.


One of the differences from other Neeson pictures is that his character isn’t what you would call a ‘good guy’. He plays Jimmy Conlon, a former mob hitman who was given the nickname “Gravedigger” (now that just screams bad news). Jimmy is struggling with the sins of his past which cost him his relationship with his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman). Mike is now married with children and he mentors fatherless boys at a local gym while also driving a limo at night for extra money.

Jimmy’s only friend is his former boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Shawn has adapted his criminal organization to the times but his cocky and careless son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is a loose cannon. When a deal goes bad, Danny murders some Albanian drug dealers and Mike witnesses the crime. Danny sets out to take care of the witness but Jimmy kills him in order to save his son. An angry and grief-stricken Shawn sends his army of thugs and crooked cops to kill Jimmy and Mike before the night is over.


The story puts Jimmy and Mike together with their very lives on the line. But that brings along a very interesting dynamic. The two must navigate the animosity from a broken relationship just as much as the numerous dangers Shawn sends their way. This little father/son angle adds some cool elements to the story but it also results in a couple of odd plot twists that defied common sense. Plus it leads to an obvious ending that you see coming a mile away.

Despite that, “Run All Night” is a fun crime thriller that jets along at a nice pace and keeps you entertained. There is some good action and real intensity yet very little in terms of surprises. But perhaps the most fun comes from watching Neeson and Harris, two always reliable and enjoyable actors squeeze every bit out of their roles. This is an edgier Neeson picture and it does differentiate itself a bit from his action catalogue. Maybe not enough to make it something truly special, but I still appreciated its effort.


3.5 stars

REVIEW: “The Hate U Give”


There seems to be a new wave of movies dealing with one of the hot button social issues of our day – police brutality. It’s an important issue but one often caught up in the mire of politics and emotion. Strong feelings on both sides often lead to the conversation spiraling away from the meat of the matter and into frivolous side debates.

Sometimes what we need is a pointed yet levelheaded examination. For the most part that is what we get in director George Tillman Jr’s “The Hate U Give”, a film adapted from Angie Thomas’ young adult novel of the same name. Without question “The Hate U Give” is looking at its issues from a specific point of view, but that doesn’t undercut the relevance of what it has to say nor does it negate the power with which it says it.


In what should be a star-making performance, Amandla Stenberg plays Starr Carter. She’s a bit of a chameleon, taking on different personas in the two worlds she occupies. During the day she is one of the only African-American kids in her mostly white private prep school. While there she hides anything that may hint at where she is from. And where is she from? The lower income and predominantly black neighborhood of Garden Heights where she back-pockets and keeps quiet about her school life especially her white boy friend Chris (KJ Apa).

Keeping her two worlds apart is the easiest thing for Starr, but it’s not without complications. A portion of the movie deals with her bouncing between cultures and finding it hard to fit into either. For Starr it becomes about putting off the facades, discovering who she is, and finding her own distinct voice. Unfortunately the catalyst for Starr’s evolution is a senseless act of violence.


At a late night party in Garden Heights Starr bumps into childhood friend and first crush Khalil (Algee Smith). After gunfire rings out, Kahlil helps Starr out of the party and drives her home. On the way they are pulled over by a patrolman for a lane violation. Minutes later the cop panics, an unarmed Khalil lay shot to death, and Starr is the lone witness.

News of the tragedy reverberates throughout the community, the city, and eventually the nation. Starr’s father Maverick (a terrific Russell Hornsby) wants her to use her voice regardless of her apprehensions. Starr’s mother (an equally good Regina Hall) wants her to stay quiet fearing the repercussions of the spotlight. As Starr is torn between defending her friend and protecting her family, others unknowingly treat her like a pawn for their own agendas. It makes finding her voice even more of a struggle.


While police brutality is the film’s central topic, it explores a host of other racial and socioeconomic issues. It looks at urban poverty, profiling, drug dealing, protesting, among several other things. Screenwriter Audrey Wells (who sadly died earlier this month) leans on her big lot of characters to explore these subjects. The characters are a strength and even the smallest are authentic and believable pieces of the story. There are a couple exceptions. Her white friends from school often come across as clichés intended to move the narrative in certain directions. And I loved Anthony Mackie as a local gang leader and drug pusher. He is intense and menacing but too often relegated to giving intimidating stares from a distance.

George Tillman Jr. works with a lot of moving parts and manages them with an able hand. He tells a good story while only occasionally dipping too far into melodrama. His movie is very open about about its feelings which is to its credit. At the same time its earnestness occasionally leads the film to paint in broad strokes and dabble in generalizations. But those instances are rare. Ultimately “The Hate U Give” is a film that speaks its mind but does so with optimism. The filmmakers want to make a difference and they truly believe their film can help do so.