Run All Night


Viewed – 25 August 2015  Online-rental

When Liam Neeson defied expectations and proved a credible action star in the breakout hit Taken, I couldn’t wait to see what would come next.  However what we did get were a series of thrillers that all seemed to come from the same blueprint, delivering entertainment of rapidly deteriorating quality … Taken’s own sequels a prime example.

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However I came to this fairly well reviewed revenge thriller with a degree of optimism because well, Neeson is still a solid screen presence and with the right script can really deliver the goods.  Sadly then this wasn’t the case here.  Neeson plays a down on his luck mobster, estranged from his son and still hanging out with his gangster friend Ed Harris.  Yet one night Ed Harris’ loose-cannon son gets in a sticky situation with some Albanian drug dealers and is soon involved in murder – that get’s witnessed by Neeson’s limousine driver son.  Neeson then has to protect his only son from this unhinged hoodlum that he’s forced to kill, which pisses off old friend Harris – and so sets forth a night of retribution and well, a lot of running.

Slightly convoluted story aside, the concept here is decent, and the performances, especially Harris and Neeson are not bad.  RoboCop remake’s Joel Kinnaman is also passable as Neeson’s clean-cut son … but the big let down here is the direction from usually commendable Jaume Collet-Serra (the underrated ‘Unknown’ and cult classic ‘Orphan’).  He chooses to shoot the whole movie like a rapidly edited pop-video that really didn’t suit the gritty, realistic tone and spoils pretty much every attempt at a good moment.  A car chase is dizzying and just not enjoyable to watch.  Shoot outs get tiresome very quickly, and even quiet character moments are awash with camera angles that don’t stay in one place for more than a second.  The writing is also pretty lazy and get’s rather silly at times just to help the plot along (leave the hit man alive?  Really??).

Some plot elements like how Neeson won’t let his son fire a gun and the father / son bonding or the friendship between Harris and Neeson, helped give the movie some depth – and in better hands, could have made for much more memorable fair (Michael Mann comes to mind, considering we get a steal of Heat’s famous coffee shop scene).  But no, this was just sloppy style for the sake of sloppy style, that took any potential and ruined it.

Verdict:  2 /5

The Gunman


Viewed – 26 March 2015  Cinema

Sean Penn isn’t the first person that comes to mind when you’re talking action movies … he’s more your method actor thesp with a few decent performances under his belt.  However with not a great deal to choose from at the cinema recently, this movie from the director of Taken (is that a trusted recommendation these days?) made for an intriguing prospect.

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Penn plays a special forces operative in the Congo on a top secret mission where he is involved in the assassination of a politician.  He subsequently goes into hiding following the hit and has to turn his back on his sultry girlfriend (Jasmine Trinca) and his best bud (Jarvier Bardem).  Eight year’s pass and he’s working as an aid worker in a  village when a hit squad recognise him and attempt to kill him.  Scared and worried who might have been talking, Penn goes about tracking down his former colleagues in search of answers.

Penn is on fine form and handles some slick, violent action with ease – this is certainly a side we don’t normally see from him and like his predecessor Liam Neeson he acquits himself with honours.  This surprises and shocks in equal measure with some brutal violence and an intense, nerve-wracking tone.  A clever brain-injury plot device aside, It lacks the emotional wallop of Taken and Penn doesn’t quite have Neeson’s charisma, but buffed up and breaking skulls a plenty, he still does a decent job.  Supporting cast especially Bardem as the grinning, shifty friend and a weary-looking but enjoyable Ray Winston add flavour and we even get Idris Elba as a shadowy Interpol agent.

It’s not about to spawn a franchise like Taken (thankfully) and probably won’t become a classic due to a sometimes confusing plot, but for fans of gritty, bone-crunching thrillers that don’t let up – this one is worth your time.

Verdict:  4 /5

Non-Stop


Viewed – 05 July 2014 Pay-per-view

Liam Neeson has become quite the go-to guy for action thriller’s of late, following his superb turn in ‘Taken’.  We won’t mention the sequel… So I generally find sitting down to his latest hard-as-nails agent in a difficult situation thriller an easy prospect.  He plays a U.S. Air Marshall boarding a plane as the hired security.  All seems well until he receives a text from a fellow passenger saying someone on the plane will be killed every twenty minutes, unless $150 million is transferred into an account.

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A good concept and a claustrophobic setting make for a very interesting twist on the usual terrorist plot-device.  Neeson is great as always, and the fact the terrorist makes Neeson look like he’s the guy hi-jacking the plane adds bags of tension.  Along the way various suspects turn up for who the texter may be and you’ll surely have your theories, which makes for fun guess-who shenanigans as Neeson tries every trick in the book to unmasks his tormentor.  Julianne Moore plays a passenger Neeson befriends but adds little considering her name, and much of the supporting cast, the pilot, various passengers etc just make up the numbers.  So have no doubt this is Neeson’s gig all the way.

Towards the end the final unmasking felt a little ‘er.. what?’ with the motives somewhat confusing, but throughout there was enough tension and red herrings thrown about to keep this viewer gripped.  Neeson may still be trying to reclaim the brilliance of Taken, and this still falls short, but overall I came away suitably entertained.

Verdict:  3 /5

Taken 2


Viewed – 08 October 2012  Cinema

2008’s Taken was one of the best thrillers I had seen in years.  Liam Neeson completely nailed it as a hard-as-nails CIA agent out to rescue his daughter from a sex-slavery-ring in France.  It was tough, violent and very cool.  It turned Neeson overnight into an action hero.  So let’s not be too shocked that they’ve gone and knocked out a sequel.

Neeson reprises his role as tough CIA agent Bryan Mills who invites his estranged wife (but they’re on good terms these days) and  his daughter to Istanbul where he is going to work on a routine security job.  Only one problem: the men he killed in Taken, well their family, especially their mob boss father are out for revenge, and soon track Neeson down with the very intention of taking him and his family.  Of course, Neeson has other ideas.

This follow-up doesn’t lack thrills or exotic locales and has some decent action (a roof top chase, various gunfights, fist fights, a frantic car chase etc) but with a more family-friendly rating – the whole movie lacks that ‘bite’ the first one had in spades.  All the violence is toned down in such a way I almost felt I was watching a badly censored TV version, with some deaths ending up looking bizarre and unfinished without the expected ‘snap’ or splash of blood.  Thankfully Neeson is still good as Mills, calculated, efficient and can deliver even the stupidest lines with vigour (when a dog has a bone the last thing you want to do is take it from him).  Also this time around Maggie Grace has been given a much bigger role and equits herself well, even if she is still a bit annoying.  Famke Janssen, usually good in other movies (the X-Men trilogy) is wasted here like she was in the first film.  Also for villainous fodder, Rade Serbedzija (Snatch, Mission Impossible 3) does his usual Rusky gangster thing he’s been doing for years … yawn.

So this does have some good ideas and moments that work well (how Neeson gets his gun back after being kidnapped for example) but along with sloppy direction and a lacking script, with an approach that aims at the wrong audience – this obvious cash-cow sequel just does too many things wrong to make me recommend it.

Stick with the original.

Verdict:  2 /5

Unknown


Viewed – 21 May 2012  Blu-ray

With Liam Neeson enjoying a sort of resurgence in popularity following a spate of hit thrillers, pretty much anything starring the Irish-born actor is essential viewing of late.  Although at the time this garnered very mixed reviews and seemed to be wrongly marketed as a cheap cash-in to Taken … therefore, I have been quite hesitant to check this one out.

Neeson plays Dr Martin Harris, on route to a summit in Berlin with his beautiful wife Liz (January Jones – Mad Men, X-Men First Class), who is involved in a car accident, and on awakening from a coma four days later, discovers that someone has taken his identity, and not even his wife recognises him.  A great set up, that although causing strong deja-vu with this viewer (Frantic, anyone?), immediately grabbed my attention.  As expected Liam Neeson is very good as the confused Doctor, handling car chases, fist fights and a compelling situation with ease.  Supporting him is a perfectly angelic January Jones and also a street-wise Diane Kruger as the cab driver who comes to Neeson’s aid.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan) with similar slick production values and European setting to Taken, this may lack the emotional intensity of that movie and much of the ‘cool’ but still offers a gripping 2 hours of entertainment that’s really hard not to enjoy.  The ending did sort of screw with my perceptions, leaving me a tad conflicted … and the villains are out of the shady government cookie cutter.  Yet if you’re after an above average thriller with intrigue, twists and quality action, if short on surprises … this will do the job nicely.

Verdict:  3.5 /5