Liam Neeson’s first flop since carving out a healthy commercial niche as America’s aging tough guy/man-of-action in TAKEN/’08 turns out to be the best of the lot. And with Jaume Collet-Serra, who helmed Neeson’s unwatchable NON-STOP/’14. Go figure. Yes!, let’s go figure. Well, the others were formulaic horror or vigilante actioners, generally well-made, easy to swallow. NIGHT’s a more sophisticated work, with a depth in character and a narrative that veers off-track now & then. Quality stuff. Exciting, too. But not what was expected. Neeson’s a down-for-the-count mob hitman forced to pull things together one last time when his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman, excellent) gets accidentally involved in a failed drug deal. Worse, the linchpin on the collapsed scheme is the loser son of Neeson’s old mob boss (Ed Harris, excellent). (Go ahead, put ‘excellent’ by the whole cast & crew.) Once the bodies start to drop, Dad’s the only guy with the skill set & instincts to set things right. But only if his son can give him a long night of absolute trust. Neeson brings in a lot of Robert Mitchum’s world weary grace (think FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE/’73; THE YAKUZA’74), but with more gas in the tank. (It’s a cheat to have Neeson snap back so completely, but you accept it.) And once past the needlessly fussy digital manipulation (a nasty case of Guy Richie-itis), the film properly lands in the semi-familiar terroir of ‘30s French poetic-realism, a precursor to Hollywood film noir.* It’s potent stuff.
DOUBLE-BILL: *For some classic cinematic French poetic-realism, try Marcel Carné & Jacques Prévert’s LE JOUR SE LÈVE/’39, with Jean Gabin in the obvious Neeson spot. Remade in Hollywood by Anatole Litvak with Henry Fonda as THE LONG NIGHT/’47, it’s hard to imagine this team not knowing the film. Or, at least, it’s title.