Genre films always walk a slippery slope. On the one hand, they offer the comfort of the familiar: the audience and filmmakers enter into an unspoken contract that dictates certain simple expectations will be met. On the other, simply meeting expectations isn’t enough; that familiar stuff must be expertly executed, and, in the very best cases, shown to us in a unique light.
You may be wondering why I’ve opened my letter to you with this Genre 101 lesson. It’s pretty simple, really: your new movie, Run All Night, is very much a film ruled by genre conventions. Yet I get the feeling that director Jaume Collet-Sera and writer Brad Ingelsby might have seen your character as the convention-breaker. Because every time you show up, Run All Night suddenly goes from being predictable and uninspired to flat out ridiculous. And, well, pretty stupid.
Almost everything about Run All Night is cookie-cutter. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before: an aging mob boss who has gone (mostly) straight has a hot-headed son who may undo what he’s tried to achieve; another aging ex-enforcer (the boss’s longtime friend, natch) has become a drunk, and has become estranged from his own straight-arrow son; through a series of plot contrivances, the two sons have a run-in that eventually leaves the old-timers gunning for each other.
This may come as a shock, but regret, revenge, and betrayal are not the most unique themes to bring to the mob genre.
I’m sure this all sounds facetious, but I’m being a little bit sincere. The way it plays out, Collet-Sera and Ingelsby seem to think they’ve invented these tragic mob archetypes from whole cloth. They want to play at the level of tragic opera. Structuring the film as a flashback from what appears to be our hero’s final minutes tips their hand: they want events to feel predetermined. But instead they’re merely predictable (see above re: the knife’s edge of genre picture). Their true intentions are revealed in the casting. When you cast Liam Neeson as the rundown killer forced back into action to protect his son, we all know the movie they really wanted to make: the Liam-Neeson-disposes-of-bad-men-with-ruthless-efficiency movie. The new twist here is that he feels, I don’t know, a little sadder about being such an efficient killer?
Or maybe it was your character.
The filmmakers play it mostly straight, trying heir damnedest to convince us that everything is really heavy. Lord knows Harry Gregson-Williams’s score attempts to portray the crushing moral weight behind every plot point. Sure there’s a lot actions scenes that use a shaky camera in place of actual choreography, but it’s a very sad shaky cam. The less said about the silly 3D computer effects that move us from one location to another, the better (okay, I’ll say this much: at least it’s abandoned early.)
But then you show up as the highly-skilled contract killer, Price. And you look – and act – like a cross between The Terminator and Brother Mouzone form The Wire. Seriously, you’re just as ruthless, unstoppable, and even more impervious to pain. You’re even given a laser-sight pistol that shines through smoke, finding targets before they know you’re there (though no one specifies if it‘s actually a “phased plasma rifle with a 20 watt range”). Your character is imagined only in references to other, better characters. The most incongruous of these is your Bullit-inspired trench coat—a better reference to that movie could have been made by filming coherent car chases. As you walked though corridors, killing policemen and mobsters with robot-like determination, the hollowness of Run All Night's pretensions are given harsh relief.
And then you disappeared for a while, and the movie continued on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
It probably sounds like the ridiculous over-the-top-ness of your character was a welcome relief from the mediocrity of the rest of the movie – even rereading my own description of it strikes me that way – but it merely annoyed me. It was like eating at a restaurant that has reached beyond its abilities, then fed candy corn between courses: a bland meal made unpalatable by the addition of something that’s terrible even on its own.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t blame you for this. The conception and execution of your character speaks to the video game aesthetic Collet-Sera can’t quite escape. Like the movie itself, your character is a bunch of influences from better movies sloppily thrown together in the hope that their sum will some how create a better whole.
But they don’t.