Run All Night

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DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: Brad Ingelsby • PRO: Roy Lee, Michael Tadross, Brooklyn Weaver • DOP: Martin Ruhe • DES: Sharon Seymour • Cast: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bruce McGill, Genesis Rodriguez, Common

 

When Pierre Morel’s action thriller Taken was first released in cinemas back in 2008, many people were surprised to see the then-56 year old Liam Neeson taking on the role of anti-hero Bryan Mills.

While it wasn’t entirely unfamiliar territory for the Ballymena man – earlier roles in films like Rob Roy, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins presented a physical challenge to the Academy Award nominee – it was seen as a departure for the man who has memorably brought real-life figures such as Oskar Schindler, Michael Collins and Alfred Kinsey to the big screen.

Yet, despite being filmed on a relatively meagre $25 million budget, Taken proved to be a resounding success, earning almost ten times that amount at the worldwide box office.

With two subsequent sequels proving to be even more profitable, Neeson has firmly-established himself as a bonafide action star, and although Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Silence may well find him back on prime dramatic form, he is showing no signs of turning his back on the genre that he has seemingly embraced with opening arms in recent years.

2011’s Unknown and last year’s Non-Stop had been marketed in a similar vein to Taken, and the towering Antrim-native teams up with the director of those films, Jaume Collet-Serra, in Run All Night. Taking place over the course of 16 hectic hours, Neeson plays ageing Brooklyn hitman Jimmy Conlon, who was previously a major player in the crime empire run by his best friend, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris).

He is estranged from his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman), who eager to distance himself from the murky world that his father operates, and is forced to don a Santa costume as he attempts to pay off an outstanding heating bill. Michael is a now-retired boxer (and incidentally shares his name with a real-life Irish Olympic medallist in the same sport) who is employed as a limousine driver around the streets of New York City.

This is helping him (and his family) to make ends meet, but his life is thrown into chaos one night, when he crosses paths with Shawn’s son Danny (an unhinged Boyd Holbrook) and he subsequently embarks on the run with Jimmy, who has had to take matters into his own hands to protect his offspring.

What follows is fairly standard fare, as the Conlons reluctantly team together to evade the forces that gather around them – most notably Common’s bespectacled assassin – and ensure that Shawn’s lust for revenge isn’t fulfilled.

Much like the previous partnerships between director and star, Run All Night is an efficiently-produced thriller, which allows Neeson to bring a grizzled edge to a tortured character. The addition of the energetic Kinnaman (who has made his name stateside in The Killing and also assumed the lead role in 2014’s Robocop remake) make the role of Jimmy less physically-demanding that Neeson’s more recent “geriaction” exploits, and in contrast to the often cringe-inducing interplay with Maggie Grace in the Taken series, there is a refreshing lack of sentimentality in the father-son dynamic.

However, the theme of family is explored in great detail, with the widely-explored “sins of the father” cinema trope forming a major part of the film’s narrative. Indeed, if anything, it often takes itself too seriously, which may be a little off-putting for its potential audience.

When it focuses on the nuts and bolts element of the story (which also features Vincent D’Onofrio as Jimmy’s long-time NYPD adversary), it has a firm footing, and despite being overstretched at 114 minutes, it manages to maintain its momentum ahead of the blood-splattered final act.

While it isn’t the goriest film you will see this year, it resists the temptation to drop below an R-rating, a move that made the Taken sequels seem alarmingly sanitised. This does lead to some occasional misfires (there are some sexual references that look like they belong in a completely different film), but with Neeson and Harris displaying confidence in their respective roles, they register as minor complaints.

If you try to analyse Run All Night in the context of Neeson’s wider back catalogue, it becomes clear that it won’t be a film that will have a lasting effect on fans of his output. How much longer he can continue in these action roles is also up for debate, but until then, his latest offering works as perfectly serviceable entertainment.

Daire Walsh

15A (See IFCO for details)
114 minutes

Run All Night is released 6th March 2015

Run All Night – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Non-Stop

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DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach • Ryan Engle PRO: Alex Heineman, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver • DOP: Flavio Martínez Labiano • ED: Jim May • MUS: John Ottman • DES: Alec Hammond  • CAST: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o

 

In Non-Stop, Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, an Irish-American air marshal with a dark past and a drinking problem. (Standard – one wonders if it’s possible to get a career in the defensive forces without a tragic history.) While on board a long-haul New York/London flight, he receives a series of taunting texts from a mysterious stranger threatening to murder a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited in a bank account. His aggressive approach to preventing this puts him at odds with the passengers, crew, and TSA; and when the bank account is revealed to be in his own name, Marks is branded a hijacker. Stripped of his badge and gun (‘duty-free’?) and unsure who to trust, Marks must clear his name and get the passengers back on side before the real threat comes to an explosive climax.

Certain stylistic features of this film work very well. The appearance of speech bubbles on screen to show a text message is a device becoming popular since its use in such television series as Sherlock and House of Cards. Director Jaume Collet-Serra takes this further, projecting the flickering screen of a shattered phone and highlighted auto-fills as Marks types (though unfortunately for the film’s humour content, no auto-correct slip-ups), validating the use of text messages as a form of narrative delivery within a film. Similarly, the claustrophobic setting of the plane is well-captured – probably no doubt helped by Neeson’s hulking frame dominating the tiny space.

The film deals in some potentially rich themes here, too, with the gradual turn against Marks by everyone else involved with the flight. The difference between a state of hijacking and a state of emergency, and the threat to civil liberties through deference and compliance to perceived authority, is ripe for exploration. Unfortunately it’s treated with all the intelligence and subtlety as a fire extinguisher to the back of the head.

In terms of its plot, it would be unfair to call Non-Stop a Non-Starter – the initial premise is intriguing, menacing, and vaguely Hitchcockian in its ambitions. Call it ‘Strangers on a Plane.’ Yet somewhere along the line the low-key approach is completely abandoned in favour of toilet-based kung-fu, a sophisticated bomb concealed in cocaine, and television news channels streaming live onboard, asking of possible-hijacker Marks, ‘how do we know he’s NOT IRA?’ A certain suspension of disbelief is always required with any action caper, but halfway through it seems that the film is aware of this audience pre-disposition and shamelessly takes advantage.

With that in mind, those who enjoy Neeson’s latter-day action movie superstar mode will doubtless find much to enjoy here, with a number of well-choreographed fight scenes at 30,000 feet causing plenty of turbulence. Neeson is a great action star – his broad build, stern Roman features, and emotional range are perfectly suited to this genre. Along with fighting three men at once, he acts the hell out of looking at a phone, and has great chemistry with co-star Julianne Moore. He may be trying to save 150 people on board the plane, but Non-Stop takes a narrative nosedive in its third act that not even Liam Neeson can put right. The resolution to the whodunnit feels like a cheat, as does the motivation given for compromising the plane. The descent into cliché gathers so much speed that it crashes horribly close to parody; and the cheerful Hollywood ending fails to reconcile a number of loose ends about Marks’ no-doubt partially-disturbed mental state that doesn’t convince me he’ll come out the other side of this journey any better off. (Especially considering current exchange rates.)

A great mystery it’s not, and the frenzied, preposterous conclusion might be more ‘non, stop’ than ‘non-stop,’ but fans of Liam Neeson hunting, finding, and killing his man will certainly get more than enough of that. Fasten your seat-belts, it’s a bumpy ride.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)
106  mins

Non-Stop is released on 28th February 2014

Non-Stop – Official Website

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Unknown

Unknown

DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell • PRO: Leonard Goldberg, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver • DOP: Flavio Martínez Labiano • ED: Timothy Alverson • DES: Richard Bridgland • Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones

The problem with films that rely on plot-twists is that the audience is already second-guessing everything they see, trying to work out the surprise ending before its properly revealed. This usually results in one of the three following outcomes: (1) the ending is so obvious that everyone guesses it within the first ten minutes. See: Hide and Seek. (2) the ending is so good that it will leave you blabbering on about it for hours, if not weeks, after the movie has finished. See: Se7en. (3) the ending is a total cheat because there was absolutely no way that you could’ve guessed it, and it doesn’t make a lick of sense anyways. See: Switchblade Romance. Unfortunately for Unknown, it falls firmly into this third category.

After Taken, Liam Neeson seems to be suffering from some kind of cinematic mid-life crisis, as once again Oskar Schindler is running around a major European city, kicking ass and taking names. Here he plays Dr. Martin Harris, who after a nasty car crash, wakes from a coma to discover his wife (January Jones, beautiful but with all the acting ability of a fax machine) doesn’t recognise him, and another man (Aidan Quinn, keeping up the Irish contingent) claiming to be the real Dr. Harris. So Neeson sets out to prove he’s not crazy, and try to find out why his life has been taken from him.

It doesn’t help that so much of the plot relies so heavily on contrivance. The car-crash that kick-starts the plot only happens because Neeson just happened to forget his briefcase at the airport. In the taxi back to the airport, his taxi just happened to be behind a rogue, falling refrigerator. (Yes, you read that right.) And said taxi just happened to be driven by an illegal immigrant (Diane Kruger, and if this is what an average Berlin taxi driver looks like, consider me booked on the next flight there), who can’t go to the police for fear of being deported. All these coincidences happen in the first ten minutes of the film, and they don’t stop there.

If only the film hadn’t taken itself so seriously, then perhaps it could’ve been a good slice of cheap fun. Director Jaume Collet-Serra previously directed Orphan, which was equally ridiculous and happened to have a perfectly-pitched twist ending. But here everything is given the po-faced treatment, with Neeson twisting himself into bitter anguish instead of having the kind of reckless fun he had in Taken. Add into this the appearance of acting heavyweights like Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz, and you know that they have aimed to make a serious A-movie out of trashy B-movie material.

But it’s not all bad; even when he’s slumming it Neeson is still the best thing in everything he’s ever done, the snowy streets of Berlin really add to the sense of foreboding paranoia, there’s a spectacular extended car-chase that’ll get the pulses racing, and for the last ten minutes the film does finally succumb to the giddy, tacky highs it should’ve been hitting throughout. However, once that twist is finally revealed, some of the smaller plot-holes you may have noticed earlier will disappear, only to be replaced by big massive canyons in logic. Prepare to be infuriated. Entertained, but infuriated.

Rory Cashin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Unknown
is released on 4th March 2011

Unknown – Official Website

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSXUgkCjdBM[/youtube]

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'Unknown White Male'

Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson heads the cast of the action thriller Unknown White Male, currently in post-production. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan), the film also stars Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz and Oscar® nominee Frank Langella.

Liam Neeson stars as Dr. Martin Harris, who wakes up after a car accident in Berlin to discover that his wife (January Jones) suddenly doesn’t recognize him, and another man (Aidan Quinn) has assumed his identity. Ignored by disbelieving authorities and hunted by mysterious assassins, he finds himself alone, tired, and on the run. Aided by an unlikely ally (Diane Kruger), Martin plunges headlong into a deadly mystery that will force him to question his sanity, his identity, and just how far he is willing to go to uncover the truth.

Unknown White Male was shot on location in Germany and will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

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Orphan

Orphan

DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: David Johnson • PRO: Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Downey, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Joel Silver • DOP: Jeff Cutter • ED: Timothy Alverson • DES: Tom Meyer • CAST: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder.

Orphan is a remarkable thriller, one of the most sadistic to hit the cinemas in a long time. There have been so many evil children movies that it’s hard for one to set itself apart. This bizarre mix of ridiculous schlock and intense family drama is difficult to swallow but never fails to entertain.

The Coleman family are introduced as a picture-perfect American family. A beautiful house in Connecticut, beautiful parents Kate and John and beautiful children Daniel and Maxine. Kate had recently suffered a stillbirth and in order to soothe that pain, they decide to adopt a child. They find a perfect addition to their family in a local orphanage in the form of beautiful, creative, charming Esther, a 9-year-old Russian girl. However, soon after they bring her home they start to notice some strange things about Esther.

What happens next is a series of nasty events that divide the family. The sense of ‘other’ surrounding Esther allows the audience to believe that John could keep excusing suspicious events and slowly but surely start to believe that Kate has gone mad. Esther wears strange clothes, speaks with a foreign accent and has different mannerisms to her American counterparts. This sense of ‘otherness’ is most evident with respect to the Coleman’s eldest child Daniel. He is disgusted with Esther and refuses to tolerate her quirks. Immediately a division is caused in the family.

The remarkable thing about this film is the sense of unease created by domestic dramas. The veneer of perfection at the beginning quickly starts to peel away. The resultant family drama acts as a wonderful way to build tension, as if a murderous child isn’t enough.

The third act is where things start to get really weird! Esther’s true intentions are revealed to the shock of the audience and there’s a killer twist, which in some ways explains the outrageousness of the events of the film.

This film is genuinely creepy with some delightful gore and an ice-cold colour palette that suits the tone of the film really well. The filmmakers clearly went to great pains to create a clinical and very polished world within the film. The design of the Coleman family home brings to mind 1980s David Cronenberg with its grave austerity and chilling lack of comfort. Apart from visually, the film also delivers at a stern, smooth pace. It moves slowly, but never at the expense of entertainment or drama. At almost two and a half hours, this is a slow-burner, but one that ultimately pays off as it reaches its climax.

From the stunning opening sequence to its very bizarre conclusion, this is a striking film, but be sure to check your disbelief in at the door as this is one preposterous story! Ultimately, it is enjoyable and boasts some fantastic performances from its leads particularly a 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman who, I must say, must have very obliging parents to allow her to play this extremely risky role. If you want a good slow-burning thriller, there’s a lot to like about Orphan. However, be warned: it gets very, very strange.

Charlene Lydon
(See biog here)


Rated 16 (See IFCO website for details)
Orphan is released on 7th August 2009

Orphan – Official Website

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