Thursday, March 12, 2015

“Run All Night” – Killing tropes.

As I sat through the screening of Run All Night, I couldn’t stop thinking about how some movie tropes just won’t die, even if they are so dumb it hurts to see or hear them. The most obvious one is the MacGuffin – an object of seeming importance that ends up not actually mattering to the plot, but which exists solely to move the plot forward. My favorite example of a MacGuffin is from an episode of The Big Bang Theory in which Amy points out to Sheldon that Indiana Jones is not important to the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yes, a MacGuffin can be a person (just ask the kid in the show Evolution who dies in the episode immediately following the 13-episode rescue attempt of that kid), but I digress. Run All Night does not include an obvious MacGuffin, but does feature two of the more maddening tropes of some action flicks.

(Note: By the end of the next two paragraphs, you’re going to think I hated this movie – I didn’t – but just hear me out. Also, mild SPOILERS.)

The first trope is the character that Liam Neeson plays – Jimmy Conlon. Jimmy is an ex-hitman for Sean Maguire (Ed Harris), a drunk, and has an estranged family (a son). Naturally, he’s the hero of the film. Given the characters Neeson played in the Taken series and Non-Stop, this isn’t exactly a stretch, but Jimmy is far from the only action hero to have this background (or one extremely similar). John McClain, Martin Riggs – I’m sure you can name half a dozen more before you finish this sentence. My point is that it’s almost entirely unnecessary. I get that the writer is doing it so the hero can redeem himself, but does the audience really care? You’re not rooting for McClain to redeem himself, you’re rooting for him to save the hostages and kill the bad guys. He doesn’t need the extra motivation that redemption offers. The same goes for Jimmy in Run All Night; the entire plot is Jimmy trying to keep Sean (and Sean’s men) from killing Jimmy’s son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman), and Michael’s family. Since Michael is not a criminal, mentors kids in boxing, and has a pregnant wife and two daughters, we want Jimmy to succeed. It doesn’t matter that he’s a drunk or a bad father because his son and family are what’s at stake. If anything, making Jimmy a drunk makes it harder to suspend your disbelief because he turns into a lethal and precise killing machine just a couple of hours after ruining Christmas for Sean’s family as a falling-down drunk, foul-mouthed Santa Claus. Yes, I wish I was making that up.

I realize I just spent a lot of words about a relatively minor bad trope, so here’s the second one – why would a crime boss be so adamant about avenging (or protecting) a son who is one more screw-up away from being shot by dad himself? This one’s a much bigger deal because it’s what drives the entire plot of Run All Night. I couldn’t help but be annoyed by this because I was just as annoyed with it in last year’s John Wick because it was equally as mind-boggling. If you’ve seen the previews for Run All Night, you know that Sean wants to kill Michael because Jimmy killed Sean’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), because Danny was about to Michael. What you didn’t see in the previews is that Danny wanted to kill Michael because Michael saw Danny kill two Albanian drug dealers. Those drug dealers were going to kill Danny because Sean refused to partner with the drug dealers, even though Danny promised the drug dealers that Sean would partner with them. After rebuffing the dealers, but before all the killing starts, Sean tells Danny that he’s tired of cleaning up Danny’s messes and that Danny will have to deal with this on his own. In other words, Sean is sending Danny to his death, so why does he get so bent out of shape when Danny actually dies? If Sean was so hell-bent on avenging his son’s death, why didn’t he send a couple of men to follow Danny and kill the Albanians in the event they kill his son? Sean even acknowledges to Jimmy that he told Danny to stay away from Michael, all but admitting that Jimmy had no choice but to kill Danny. But, in the words of Sean himself – “you know how this has to end Jimmy.” Yes we do, because another standard action movie trope is for the bad guy to throw all of his resources at defeating the good guy, even when his reason for doing so makes little to no sense, and will result in the complete destruction of his kingdom.

Despite those tired tropes, nearly the rest of the writing is tight (didn’t see that one coming, did you?), resulting in a very solid action flick. With the exception of a magical escape from an apartment building in one scene and every cop in New York City being crooked except for Detective Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio), the movie moves along nicely and leaves no loose ends by the time the credits roll. There’s a pretty good car chase scene, plenty of ass-kicking from Neeson, and the first good villain (Harris) in a Neeson movie since Patrick Wilson in 2010’s The A-Team. It’s also the best Neeson-fronted movie we’ve seen since the original Taken back in 2008. I just wish those tropes would die as easily as everyone who tries to kill the child of a Neeson character.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back, one for each trope.


  1. The movie was easy to follow, zooming in and out of each location as the scenery change. Though the plot has the same formula as Neeson's Taken series, the action sequences were well choreographed and the acting from Neeson and Ed Harris were superb.

  2. You're right - it was very easy to follow. It's the premise that was completely ridiculous.