Before "Taken," few could have predicted that Liam Neeson would become the Charles Bronson of the 21st century.
It's been a profitable and rather fascinating midcareer shift for the erstwhile serious dramatic actor.
But the action superstar seems tired. Neeson himself this week told The Guardian that he only has "maybe two more years" in the genre.
Hopefully he spends them on productive projects like "Run All Night," his third collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra, a hugely entertaining NYC-set revenge picture in which grizzled mobbed-up Irishmen go at each other across the sort of darkened, gritty city streets that have inflamed the imaginations of filmmakers for decades.
It's the kind of movie where Ed Harris plays a kingpin named Shawn Maguire, who must by the laws of physics, human nature and whatever other code governs these things, hunt down his devoted former hit man Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) and Conlon's estranged son Michael (Joel Kinnaman), after Jimmy kills Shawn's deadbeat son for what are frankly perfectly legit reasons.
Collet-Serra has a grand old time with this male bonding story gone awry, in which Shawn and Jimmy can be seen cuddling and growing teary-eyed as they remember all the bad things they've done in an opening scene, before intensely threatening one another and eventually engaging in a chase, guns drawn, through a rail yard.
His camera soars above the city in rapid fire transitions between locations, aggressively zooming and tracking in a frenzy of constant, fluid movement. If he doesn't capture the real New York, exactly, there's at the very least the spirit of an imagined city of tough men in leather jackets pounding the hell out of each other in rundown subway bathrooms and decaying neighborhood pubs.
Collet-Serra, who also worked with Neeson on "Unknown" and "Non-Stop," is an audacious director. There's an enormous set piece filmed across a burning, sprawling public housing complex that's a masterpiece of kinetic chaos.
Of all the directors to have collaborated with the star during his action period, Collet-Serra best understands how to evoke the mixture of toughness and vulnerability borne out of regret that defines Neeson's most interesting work in the genre. There's an art to crafting quality pulp, a style behind the cliches. Not everyone can do what Collet-Serra and Neeson do, so be glad they're doing it, however long it lasts.