There is a certain type of Irishman who looms large in fiction: The "haunted man," the "angry man," the "tortured man," the "violent man," the "quiet man." He is a cliche ... but a cliche born of so much truth it is a bit like encountering an old friend when he shambles onto the scene. In "Run All Night," Liam Neeson doesn’t so much shamble onto the screen as jerk into being as Jimmy Conlon, an Irish-American hitman who has somehow managed to outlive most of his friends, most of his enemies, and what little welcome remains in a fast gentrifying New York for a tattered alcoholic who seems obsolescent even to his own employers. Jimmy is a beautiful wreck of a man -- fiercely loyal to his boss, Shawn Maguire (played brilliantly by Ed Harris), haunted by his past sins, and tortured by his failure as a father; he seems intent on diving deeper into the pit of humiliation he has dug for himself.
Shawn and Jimmy are flip sides of the same coin; boyhood best friends, they grew up at the edges of the Irish-American criminal world at the tail end of of the 1960s. Shawn is the quintessential conniver, and his life proves that crime pays and the wise man knows when to back down. He worked hard, got lucky a few times, and when things got tough he sent Jimmy out to kill for him. Decades later it feels as if the two friends are coming to the end of their shared journey. Jimmy drinking himself to death. Shawn, the sort of aging gangster who still keeps his office in the basement of an Irish bar, surrounds himself with genuine tough guys, pays off a few corrupt cops but is mainly a legitimate businessman. Or at least the kind of businessman smart enough to know that he doesn’t have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the new ethnic gangs who want to use his connections to move narcotics into the city.
But this isn’t a story about ethnic conflict, or even the old guard fighting the bad fight one more time. This is a story about loyalty and about the moment when one loyalty outweighs another.
Shawn and Jimmy have always been loyal to each other. It is a loyalty the honest cops who investigated them couldn’t shake, time and guilt couldn’t wear thin, and even Jimmy’s suicidal pursuit of chaos couldn’t fray. But their story turns into a true tragedy -- as predictably violent and unpredictable soulful as the cliche of the "violent man" -- when Shawn loses his son and Jimmy is forced to turn on the one friend he has always stood by -- the one friend who has always stood by him -- to save his own estranged and justifiably angry son.