Neeson is playing Jimmy Conlon, an alcoholic, ex-hitman who can now be found appearing as Santa at children’s birthday parties – until he is unwittingly dragged back into the world he left behind, when his estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) is victim to a crime perpetrated by the impulsive Danny Maguire (Boyd Holbrook). However when the latter is killed – Mike becomes the number one target of the deceased’s father, Shawn (Ed Harris) – who just so happens to be Jimmy’s closest friend, as the pair turn on one another, with a deadly game of cat and mouse transpiring.
The opening scene is a somewhat divisive way to open the film – as it’s a scene from the very end, giving off the impression that Jimmy, our protagonist, is going to be killed. This technique – which has become something of a growing trend in contemporary cinema – then sets the audience back 16 hours, as we build towards the point where Neeson may well meet his maker. In some ways it works well, adding a foreboding element to proceedings, and a sense of mortality. Often with action thrillers you feel comfortable in that the lead role will never die (like James Bond, for instance) – and yet knowing that isn’t the case this time around takes away that feeling of safety. But that being said, it also takes away any element of surprise – and therefore, suspense – as we know what’s going to happen, almost adding a sense of futility, as we’re aware that things don’t exactly work out as planned.
The structure does aid the compelling nature of this piece however, as we’re introduced to all varying characters in the early stages, not yet aware they’re all interlinked in some way, piecing it together as we go along, before the lines between each of their respective narratives become increasingly blurred. Collet-Serra has been creative in his approach too, in a film that seems to take more risks than his preceding title Non-Stop. The Spaniard is not afraid to affectionately display his respect for other filmmakers, and how they’ve influenced his work. Take Michael Mann’s Heat for instance – an evident inspiration on this project, with one scene in particular a definite nod by way of the classic production. Or even the use of sound, especially with trains moving overhead, picking up speed and thus increasing the volume (and therefore the intensity) of the scene at hand; a technique we’ve seen used before in The Godfather.
Neeson’s performance is perfectly acceptable too, though, as always, he begins as a specific character – in this instance an alcoholic of a similar ilk to his roles played in both A Walk Among the Tombstones and Non-Stop. But, also like those movies, he completely drops the character and any distinctive idiosyncrasies to their demeanour, and by the end just plays Liam Neeson. But to be honest, that’s what most fans of his want from him nowadays anyway, and anybody who pays for a ticket to see the latest Neeson actioner will know exactly what’s in store – and it’s safe to say this doesn’t disappoint in that regard.