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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Liam Neeson

02.24.2014

Last week, we took a look at the career of resurgent leading man Kevin Costner. His latest, 3 DAYS TO KILL, seems to be an attempt to turn him into an older action hero in the mold of this week’s subject, a one-time character actor who became an unlikely action hero well into middle age.

Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson was well-regarded long before he ever did TAKEN. In the mid-nineties, he was considered as one of the finest actors of his generation, thanks to performances in movies like SCHINDLER’S LIST, MICHAEL COLLINS and more. He was a big-enough star that in 1999, he pretty much carried THE PHANTOM MENACE as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, before getting killed-off in the climax. Somewhere around the millennium his career as a leading man started to taper-off after a few not-so-good movies (including big-budget flop THE HAUNTING and GUN SHY, which went direct-to-DVD) underperformed. Rather than let that bother him, Neeson simply made the transition to character actor.

The only problem with Neeson as a supporting player is that his star power was so strong and his performances so solid that he often blew his co-stars off-screen. One much-stated example is GANGS OF NEW YORK. I love that movie, but no one can deny that the first twenty minutes – centering on Neeson’s Vallon – are by far the best. How amazing would the movie had been if it had been all about Bill the Butcher’s war with Vallon, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Neeson as the leads rather than a miscast Leonardo DiCaprio? I remember watching KINGDOM OF HEAVEN opening night in a packed theater and the audience was LIVID Neeson was killed-off in the first act. Neeson as a supporting actor worked well among a top-notch ensemble in LOVE ACTUALLY, and opposite a heavyweight like Christian Bale in BATMAN BEGINS, but it was clear that even in smaller part, Neeson was a star.

It may seem like an obvious choice now, but when Neeson played an action hero in TAKEN that was considered odd casting. Heck, Fox even delayed putting the film out a full year before burying it Super Bowl weekend in 2009. Against all odds, TAKEN, which was really meant as little more than a B-level programmer, became a sizable hit and Neeson soon found himself an unlikely global megastar. While it would be nice if Neeson occasionally broke from action hero mode to do something with a little more gravitas, it can’t be denied that even when his movies are bad (like UNKNOWN and TAKEN 2) he’s always worth watching. When he’s at his best, there’s no one better.

His Best Film

This one is a no-brainer.How could it not be SCHINDLER’S LIST? Steven Spielberg’s film is a riveting account of the Holocaust, and Neeson’s never been better than as German industrialist-turned unlikely savior Oskar Schindler. Spielberg and Neeson both went through pains to depict Schindler in a way that acknowledged his numerous flaws, exposing him as an opportunist and womanizer, albeit one who’s buried conscience cannot abide the horrors of the Holocaust. I defy anyone to watch his final scene – where he tearfully admits he could have done more – and not get emotional. It could make a stone cry.

His Most Overrated Film

To me, there’s no question that his most overrated film is TAKEN 2. Sure, the critics destroyed it, but it was a MASSIVE financial hit, despite being nothing more than a regurgitated clone of the first film. Neeson tries his best, but for some weird reason the filmmakers decided the best way to use him was to keep him locked up for most of the movie while Maggie Grace ran around Turkey lobbing granades. Such a terrible film, yet it made $376 million, so we’ll be getting a TAKEN 3. Hopefully this one won’t suck.

His Most Underrated Film

Neeson’s got a few underrated or under-appreciated gems in his filmography. One recent example is THE GREY. Joe Carnahan’s movie was inexplicably released in January 2011 without an Oscar-qualifying run, which is a shame. The studio sold this as a straight-actioner, which maybe wasn’t the worst idea as it made a lot of money, but it also led to this weird backlash where people whined about Neeson’s “wolf-fight” happening off-screen. As entertaining as the notion of Liam Neeson wrasslin’ with a bunch of wolves is, these folks really missed the point of the film. Carnahan made an amazing film, and Neeson is incredible.

His Most Memorable Scene

I was tempted to put in the “I could have done more” scene from SCHINDLER’S LIST, but I already covered that in the “best performance” space, so let’s have a little fun here, shall we? In 1995, Neeson made a great Scottish Highlands adventure film called ROB ROY, which had the misfortune of coming out right around the same time as Mel Gibson’s BRAVEHEART (odd we’d get two Scottish period actioners in one year). Obviously ROB ROY isn’t half the film BRAVEHEART is, but it’s still pretty rousing in its own right. For one thing, Neeson makes for a terrific swashbuckling hero, and he’s matched by Tim Roth as his despicable rival. The movie climaxes in a superb sword-fight, where Rob tries to avenge the brutal rape of his wife by challenging Roth to a duel. Roth clearly outmatches Neeson in skill, but in the end, his swordsmanship is no match for Neeson’s brute strength and indomitable nature. If you haven’t seen this one, it’s worth checking out.

His Top-Five Performances (as a lead)

5. DARKMAN
4. THE GREY
3. TAKEN
2. ROB ROY
1. SCHINDLER’S LIST

Up Next

Neeson’s a busy guy these days. His latest actioner, NON-STOP, hits theaters this Friday. Before the year is out, his A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES should hit theaters, while his next big actioner, RUN ALL NIGHT, should be out around this time next year. This summer, Neeson switches gears a bit, with his part in Seth McFarlane’s A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. TAKEN 3 is also on the horizon, while he’s also due to reunite with Martin Scorsese for the long-gestating SILENCE.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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6:15AM on 02/28/2014
One of my all-time favorite actors. I'm thoroughly enjoying this action hero stage of his career (after being somewhat disheartened by his "scene-stealing supporting role as mentor" phase if only due to lack of screen time) and I consider Taken to be the best pure action film post-2000s. Kind of a shame no one has mentioned his role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. It's one of his best performances and movies.
One of my all-time favorite actors. I'm thoroughly enjoying this action hero stage of his career (after being somewhat disheartened by his "scene-stealing supporting role as mentor" phase if only due to lack of screen time) and I consider Taken to be the best pure action film post-2000s. Kind of a shame no one has mentioned his role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. It's one of his best performances and movies.
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1:27PM on 02/24/2014

Nice call on 'The Grey"

I think too many people expected Taken with wolves, instead we got a deep and fascinating examination of men accepting death. One of his best and Carnahan's too.
I think too many people expected Taken with wolves, instead we got a deep and fascinating examination of men accepting death. One of his best and Carnahan's too.
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10:12AM on 02/24/2014
As the years go by I find myself drawn more to Rob Roy over Braveheart (which once I considered my favorite movie). Tim Roth has never been better, John Hurt is as good as he always is, and Neeson and Jessica Lange have real chemistry. And that sword fight at the end is the best that's ever been put to film.

While The Silence may be a step in the right direction, I do hope to see Liam Neeson do more dramatic work like The Grey (maybe he could reunite with Neil Jordan for something). The
As the years go by I find myself drawn more to Rob Roy over Braveheart (which once I considered my favorite movie). Tim Roth has never been better, John Hurt is as good as he always is, and Neeson and Jessica Lange have real chemistry. And that sword fight at the end is the best that's ever been put to film.

While The Silence may be a step in the right direction, I do hope to see Liam Neeson do more dramatic work like The Grey (maybe he could reunite with Neil Jordan for something). The man's been a favorite of mine since the '90s, but it's weird for me to see him in all these straight action movies. Not denying he knows how to bring it, but it's always been the moments in between that made me love watching him. His scenes with Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven are a perfect example of that.
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9:40AM on 02/24/2014
Like the meme says: He Trained Obi-Wan Kenobi, he Trained Batman, saved Jews from Nazis and he released the Kraken. How is anyone going to beat that??
Like the meme says: He Trained Obi-Wan Kenobi, he Trained Batman, saved Jews from Nazis and he released the Kraken. How is anyone going to beat that??
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11:43AM on 02/24/2014
Thats not how the meme goes.

Its He trained Obi wan. Darth Vader. Batman. He saved the jews from the Nazis. Hes aslan and zeus and they STILL decided to kidnap his daughter?
Thats not how the meme goes.

Its He trained Obi wan. Darth Vader. Batman. He saved the jews from the Nazis. Hes aslan and zeus and they STILL decided to kidnap his daughter?
7:46AM on 02/24/2014
For me, his most underrated movies would include the likes of 'Michael Collins', 'The Big Man' and 'Suspect'.
For me, his most underrated movies would include the likes of 'Michael Collins', 'The Big Man' and 'Suspect'.
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6:53AM on 02/24/2014
Why no love for Michael Collins & Kinsey ??? They both are among his finest movies & performances.
Why no love for Michael Collins & Kinsey ??? They both are among his finest movies & performances.
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6:13AM on 02/24/2014
kinda hard to pick favourites with him because i've love basically everything he's been in from seeing Darkman in 1990 to now happy to see Rob Roy get some love
kinda hard to pick favourites with him because i've love basically everything he's been in from seeing Darkman in 1990 to now happy to see Rob Roy get some love
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4:05AM on 02/24/2014
Schindler's List is one of the most perfect films I have ever seen and he delivers a powerhouse performance in it. Him breaking down is one of my favorite scenes in any film and is easily his best film and performance in my opinion.

But The Grey was an amazing film. One of my favorites and definitely one of the more underrated films to come out in awhile.
Schindler's List is one of the most perfect films I have ever seen and he delivers a powerhouse performance in it. Him breaking down is one of my favorite scenes in any film and is easily his best film and performance in my opinion.

But The Grey was an amazing film. One of my favorites and definitely one of the more underrated films to come out in awhile.
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4:05AM on 02/24/2014
Very badass indeed. Aside from The Grey, Darkman is also underrated. His roles in Before and After and Suspect were good as well.
Very badass indeed. Aside from The Grey, Darkman is also underrated. His roles in Before and After and Suspect were good as well.
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3:24AM on 02/24/2014

Love the actor, HATED The Grey

It's a disgusting concept, to vilify animals that are not in fact dangerous to humans and are currently being harassed to death everywhere.
Other than that, I've always been a Neeson fan. Great actor. He was perfectly cast as Zeus in the Clash of the Titans remakes, too bad the movies were so damn lame.
It's a disgusting concept, to vilify animals that are not in fact dangerous to humans and are currently being harassed to death everywhere.
Other than that, I've always been a Neeson fan. Great actor. He was perfectly cast as Zeus in the Clash of the Titans remakes, too bad the movies were so damn lame.
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11:45AM on 02/24/2014
Harassed to death? Villified? The movie did not vilify them. They were doing as Neeson stated. Just defending their territory. Go back to Peta.
Harassed to death? Villified? The movie did not vilify them. They were doing as Neeson stated. Just defending their territory. Go back to Peta.
1:51AM on 02/24/2014
I agree that The Grey is a totally underrated film, and in the ways you mentioned. Some of the music in the film is excellent. Neeson, just a BAMF
I agree that The Grey is a totally underrated film, and in the ways you mentioned. Some of the music in the film is excellent. Neeson, just a BAMF
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1:23AM on 02/24/2014
Really love his work, he's an actor who can effortlessly switch between grizzled and tough and warm and fatherly, and sometimes have shades of both in the same performance. I love his turn as Ra's al Ghul because Batman Begins was a movie where Liam Neeson was a bad guy and Gary Oldman was a good guy and both were awesome at their respective parts. There's a film of his that's very under-seen called Leap of Faith (I'd like to submit it for the Best Movie You've Never Seen column), in which
Really love his work, he's an actor who can effortlessly switch between grizzled and tough and warm and fatherly, and sometimes have shades of both in the same performance. I love his turn as Ra's al Ghul because Batman Begins was a movie where Liam Neeson was a bad guy and Gary Oldman was a good guy and both were awesome at their respective parts. There's a film of his that's very under-seen called Leap of Faith (I'd like to submit it for the Best Movie You've Never Seen column), in which Steve Martin plays a Peter Popoff-esque charlatan faith healer and Neeson plays the sheriff of the town he comes to, who is naturally suspicious of the preacher. He makes an excellent foil to Martin and gives the comedy a very genuine grounding. It's always Neeson season! [link]
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