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If you saw Run All Night this weekend, you either loved it or you hated it. While it is a film that primarily focuses on surface level emotional detail, it makes up for this shallowness by providing a seriously intriguing chase through the back alleys of a New York we don’t often see in the movies. It also helps that Liam Neeson is a badass through and through, and his rapport with Ed Harris brings the heaviest emotional weight to which the film is able to lay claim. For the most part, Run All Night’s attempts at emotional storytelling are decent, but there’s one scene that just falls flat on its face, and it contains one of the most head-scratching cameos in recent memory.
If you haven’t seen the film, consider yourself warned for spoilers.
So in the third act, Neeson’s Jimmy Conlon is shot in the arm while fleeing Common’s bad ass assassin, Mr. Price. It’s a bad enough wound that he needs to be patched up, otherwise he’ll be of no use to the rest of the film’s briskly paced plot. Now the standard procedure for such a film would call for our antihero to hole up in one location for a moment to take stock and regroup. In the case of Run All Night, Jimmy runs to the house of his brother, Eddie Conlon, who is played in an extended, unbilled cameo by Nick Nolte.
Believe me when I tell you, this moment that’s supposed to be played for serious drama elicited some of the most unintentional laughter from myself and our preview audience. Since you won’t find Nolte anywhere near the ad campaign for Run All Night, I’ve included a photo below to show you just how Nolte shows up for his cameo in the film. The only thing that’s missing is the pony tail he’s sporting to keep his rampant locks as in control as he possibly can.
Nolte’s cameo goes un-credited for very good reason, as the poor man’s acting levels of late aren’t up to snuff with what he once was capable of. Gone are the days of Peak Nolte, where The Prince Of Tides and Cape Fear would be landing on his doorstep at regular intervals. True, he was amazing in Warrior, and hysterical as the Vietnam Vet faking his "true story" in Tropic Thunder. He even made a compelling Chief Parker in Gangster Squad, but was more of a harmless, one-note performance. Run All Night is attempting to go for the heartbreaking family reunion scene, while also dropping a piece of exposition that further fuels the conflict between Jimmy and his son. It’s a small scene, but it’s important enough that deploying Nick Nolte in a surprise cameo ruins its intent, knocking the film temporarily off the rails.
If the film had set up Eddie Conlon’s presence as one that was absolutely required in Run All Night, be it through a discussion or maybe a little more screen time to get used to Nick Nolte’s performance, this third act moment would have made a lot more sense. But to wait until this late in the film to introduce a new character of importance, just for one brief scene of dialogue, disrupts the rhythm of the film greatly. Remember, we’re coming off of a scene where Common and Liam Neeson just fought each other with fiery wooden weapons. To introduce a new character, as well as new backstory, seizes the momentum and distracts the audience. Not to mention, as previously stated, Nick Nolte kind of looks and sounds worse for the wear these days, so trusting him with a scene that’s supposed to sell us on the more emotional aspects of the film is a bridge too far to cross.
Perhaps the strangest part is that Run All Night already contained a character with enough knowledge and performance skills to carry Nolte's scene, without having to use Nolte, who came off as completely distracting; and it’s Vincent D’Onofrio’s Detective Harding.
Think about it: Harding’s already obsessed with Jimmy, so much so that he’s followed his career and supposedly knows all of his kills. He’s also right on scene when Jimmy gets shot and flees, so with a quick re-write, we could have had Harding following Jimmy and his son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman), into the shed, already hot on their trail. Knowing his obsession with the elder Conlon would persuade him to make the collar on his own terms, as well as the fact that he’s allowing Jimmy to prove his son’s innocence, we’d see Harding radio a medic and make up a bullshit story to lure the medic over to treat Jimmy’s wound. Insert the line about Jimmy killing his own cousin, and the ensuing fall out with Michael, and you’d pretty much have the same trajectory to finish out the film’s otherwise entertaining course. The big difference here is that the Nolte cameo wouldn’t distract from the rest of the film, and Vincent D’Onofrio would have had some more weight added to the payoff his character receives in the end.
All complaining aside, Run All Night is worth a watch, and is in theaters now. A heads up to anyone with a Nick Nolte sensitivity. He’ll be seen next in Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six.