(Jaume Collet-Serra, 2015)
Neeson has an obvious advantage over all of his current competitors for the title of King of Action Movies: he can really act. When the Rock or Vin Diesel or Jason Statham turns in a performance with any depth or emotion, we are surprised that they've managed that "Any". With Neeson, it's expected.
His only real current rival in that area is Keanu Reeves, who has added a surprising amount of melancholy and gravity to his persona as age has taken hold.
But Neeson has always been melancholy - he wears it like a cloak, swishing in his massive wake - its just that these days his action parts seem tailor-made for his presence. In Run All Night he plays an ageing, useless hit man for the Irish mob in New York, Jimmy Conlon. Apparently kept around out of sentimentality by mob boss Sean Maguire (Ed Harris, adding to his list of Irish mobsters), a childhood friend, Jimmy is a broke alcoholic , crippled by memories of all the people he has murdered. A convoluted first act sets up a situation whereby Jimmy ends up killing Sean's reckless gangster son in order to protect his own, civilian boy Michael (Joel Kinnaman), setting the two of them off on a night of chase and survival through New York as Sean sets hit men and flunkies after them. Also in on the hunt are the NYPD, though the detective who has been after Jimmy for decades (Vincent D'onofrio) may be their only hope of survival.
Collet-Serra is one of the more talented craftsmen working in mainstream American cinema right now and his classy, slick touch makes Run All Night one of the better Neeson actioners of the last few years. If the action scenes are somewhat underwhelming - and the low-key, small scale, determinedly local feel to the whole thing may even explain that to some extent - then the fine work by a great cast is more than enough to compensate. Crucially, Neeson is actor enough to rise to the task of playing opposite the likes of Harris and D'Onofrio, and his scenes with the former, particularly, lend this film an oddly poetic sense of longtime male friendships in the twilight years.
That's not to criticise the action scenes - a brutal, to-the-death fight between Neeson and Holt McCallany in a public toilet is a highlight, closely followed by a lengthy car-chase that avoids most of the cliches of that convention - rather to emphasise that the elements that really set Run All Night apart are the gritty feel it has for New York and the character acting throughout.
Probably the weakest element is the one that feels most like it has come from a different sort of genre film - Common as a preppy assassin Price, sporting a trench-coat and a laser-sighting on his pistol.
But generally Run All Night works splendidly; it is an unusually emotional, visceral mix of crime, thriller and action movies, and it uses Liam Neeson about as well as any recent film has.