March 24, 2015

A Tale of Two Movies: The Gunman/Run All Night

The other day I went to the movies and saw a pair of recently released action films. The first one I saw was really bad, the second one, fortunately, was really good. It made me take pause and wonder about why there was the chasm between them in terms of their quality. They both had competent directors and cast that has seen success. The difference in their relative effectiveness was pretty stark. I did find that a lot of it came down to emotional involvement, an element I have found to really want in recent years, not always, but more often than not. I also wondered if the filmmakers stopped o watch the finish product before unleashing it.

That last bit I find to be pretty interesting. I can understand that a creative team can become so invested in a project that they are much too close to make any sort of objective judgment. I think it is good that someone can be so involved that they want and believe it to be good. However, you still need to be able to step back and see when something doesn't work, much like Neill Blomkamp's recent apology for Elysium.

The first movie in question is The Gunman. This is the latest film from director Pierre Morel who has seen success with movies like District B13 and the first Taken. It also sports a cast featuring Sean Penn's first starring role in a few years, along with Javier Bardem and Idris Elba. By all accounts this is a solid cast. Sadly, the movie has a couple of decent action bits, but is otherwise a complete ore, goes nowhere with the narrative and completely wastes Elba's presence.

It makes one wonder if they sat and watched the film once it was done. There was little chemistry, sloppy exposition, and no emotional or even exciting pull to the plot. Frankly, once it got to the end, it felt a bit like a sermon wrapped around an action movie. By all means, use your movie as a political/social platform, but give me a reason to care. It was not quite as bad as that frakking movie from a few years back. Promised Land, or Steven Seagal's environmental actioner On Deadly Ground. Still, it felt a little heavy handed and used in place of an interesting plot.

Basically, it centers on a special ops hired gun (Penn) who is the trigger man in a plan to take out a key official regarding mining contracts in the Congo. Years later he discovers someone wants him dead, while he is attempting to atone for his sins by helping to drill wells. It all boils down to the balance between what big business wants and the rights/needs of the people. Still, Penn's character is dreadfully dull, totally uninteresting, and the exposition sloppy and poorly fleshed out.

I find it hard to believe they sat and watched it and thought this is a good movie, unless all they wanted was the message. It reminds me a little of many of the faith based films hat come out that are about the message above all else. This is not the best way to et things across. Make the characters and story interesting and blend it up a little bit.

I literally went from that right into Run All Night, the latest Liam Neeson as Charles Bronson vehicle. Not all of his action films have been a success, but when he is on, he is unstoppable. This one, directed by Jaume Collett-Serra (who also directed the surprisingly decent House of Wax and the exceptional Orphan), is sort of what Taken 3 should have been. What makes this work is not only the action, but the emotional pull.

Where The Gunman failed, Run All Night succeeds. This movie sets up its characters in efficient fashion, gives them a reason for being and sets them loose. The action and story work well together, but it is the humanity that it possesses, the anger of loss, the sadness of regret, the power of love (cliche, I know), the ties of blood, they all drew me and held my attention.

Sure, Run All Night is a pretty bad title, don't let it keep you away. You may think you've seen enough of Liam Neeson playing a badass, but believe me, I do not believe there an be such a thing. Now, pair him with a family member to protect, years of hard living and bad choices hanging over his head and you have a perfect storm for redemption.

The story centers on a broken down drunk of a hit man, he has lost his family, he has no money, he is just living to suffer with the nightmares brought about by his deeds. His son, nothing like his father happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and soon finds himself pursued by police and gangsters alike. It is up to Liam Neeson to sober p and do right by his family.

No, not a particularly fresh tale, but it is one that delivers the goods. Collett-Serra builds the tension and keeps everything moving, never letting the emotional pull lapse. It plays in stark contrast to The Gunman. Rather than being an action movie sermon, it is an action movie that is unapologetic about what it is, yet wants you to care. It takes the formulaic action tropes and executes them in a way that makes it worthwhile.

It is interesting to watch these two films, which seem to begin in very equal footing when looking at the trailer content, cast, and director, and see how the go on very different directions and have very different effects. One good, one bad. Sure, it may be subjective, but still, a little objectivity can go a long way and I think The Gunman could have used some outside objectivity. I will not try to dissuade you from either, you may see something I did not, or have different interpretation. Still, my vote, if you only see one, is Run All Night. The Neeson film delivers on multiple levels and features a great showdown between Neeson and Ed Harris, glimpsed in the trailer.

The Gunman.
Not Recommended.

Run All Night.
Highly Recommended.

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