This spring I realized with creeping Lovecraftian horror that we had six–count ‘em, six – Val Kilmer videos in the redboxes at one time, most of them direct-to-video exercises in bad-movie tolerance and hair, um, “experimentation.” (You can revisit the Val-pocalypse here.) (And you’re still playing the Kilmer game at home, he’s got another one in the kiosks: 2:22 – I haven’t seen it yet, so you’re on your own, scouts.)
So you can imagine I was considerably happier when I noticed that we’ve got another six-peater right now in the redboxes–Mr. Liam Neeson.
In early ’09, the always-talented actor grabbed everyone by the throats in a rare type of role for him: the straight-up, butt-kicking action hero in Taken. The surprise Angry-Daddy hit not only gave Neeson newfound box-office clout, but it came in the midst of a flurry of work for the actor, mostly in smaller art-house or European films — all of which are currently in the kiosks.
Of course tragedy struck Neeson’s life when his wife Natasha Richardson died suddenly due to head injuries while skiing in March of ’09. The majority of the films below were completed before her death, although Neeson was in the middle of filming Chloe at the time. (Clash of the Titans and The A-Team were filmed after Richardson’s accident.)
Clash of the Titans
I’m not an over-the-top fan of the new version’s hollow, bloated spectacle and glowering leading lump, but these kinds of big fantasy movies are always made better by a few talented Brit or Irish actors in supporting roles. As Zeus, Neeson gives it the full Pompous Authority Ride, delivering the solemn gravitas but also letting on with a wink that he knows it’s just silly Kraken-releasing cheese. All while wearing his shiny armor from Excalibur and what appears to be a Barry Gibb wig and beard.
I never tire of recommending this wonderful animated kids’ movie from Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki. Sure the delightful title character in this Little Mermaid retelling is the main draw, but Neeson’s voice work as her sea-sorcerer father helps give the fairy tale a stern backbone. Plus, Neeson’s character is drawn to look like he just walked on stage with Pink Floyd at the height of the Syd Barrett psychedelic era.
Richardson’s death midway through filming Atom Egoyan’s sexy psychological tale meant that Neeson’s role as Julianne Moore’s maybe-cheating husband was rewritten in mid-shoot. It’s unclear what difference those changes made — as it ended up, his character mostly exists as a plot point and the actor doesn’t have a whole lot to do. Still, the lurid little thriller itself is worth a look for the fine (and very provocative) work by its leading ladies, Moore and Amanda Seyfried.
Neeson plays a dour, perhaps sinister mortician who’s either drugged, kidnapped and plans to kill Christina Ricci — or can, as he claims, talk to the dead and is only here to help her accept her passing and cross over to the Other Side. The film is an artsy mix of philosophical and psychological debate and old-fashioned serial-killer chills that never quite comes together. But Neeson (and Ricci) are always worth watching.
The actor’s long face is well suited for playing sad and/or tormented, as evidenced in Schindler’s List, Love Actually, and yes even Star Wars: The Phantom Menace – Neeson wears the weight of the world well. That moroseness is put to good use as a newly widowed man who finds his late wife (Laura Linney) had an affair with a charismatic Spaniard – -Antonio Banderas. The film moves a little Euro-slow as Neeson finds and befriends Banderas (who doesn’t know the connection), but it’s enjoyable to see such different actors circle each other.
My favorite of the live-action bunch, this is for all practical purposes a filmed play that speculates what might have happened if — as part of a Truth and Reconciliation program — a Northern Ireland man (James Nesbitt) met with the Protestant man (Neeson) who killed his brother 30 years earlier. (The characters are based on real people, the meeting is imagined.) Both actors are terrific, especially Neeson who, in one of his best performances in recent years, somberly captures all his character’s complicated remorse.