How Liam Neeson Fooled Us All

It may not seem true but it is. He did it. Don’t start trying to think about how he didn’t, he blooming well did. Mr Neeson’s presence in film life appears to be part of the natural way of things but the sneaky Irish bugger has masterminded a brilliant plot to make this so. He seems to blend in seamlessly with the rest of the Hollywood’s who’s who, with the date of his subversive manoeuvre difficult to discern and how he managed it is almost impossible to tell. Is he sleeping with all the producers in filmland? Is he the leader of a criminal organisation which has instilled him at the peak of Hollywood fame? Or is he the possessor of an ultra-futuristic mind control device which has enslaved the world? I think it is option three but of course I have no conclusive proof and if I tried to get some he may turn the device on me.

Neeson’s career has been as chequered with hits and misses as any prominent actor but it’s the hits that are integral to his masterplan. He has managed to tiptoe into some very good cinema over the years and that has helped to instil a vision of competence that is not entirely earned. Consider Roland Joffe’s 1986 mastepiece The Mission. Neeson takes on a supporting role beside the magnificent duo Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro. Despite the utter brilliance of the film Neeson is underwhelming, it’s very possible his ineptitude is masked by the two stars of incomparable talent. Rob Roy (1995) is another film that ticks boxes but certainly not in the star’s acting ability. A charming highland romp starring Irish Neeson as a Scottish legend in which, miscasting aside, he is his usual uncharismatic self. Kingdom of Heaven (2005) is one of Ridley Scott’s lesser known works but Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson didn’t manage to spoil what was a rather enjoyable historical battle centred epic.

Now the real sticking point comes in the form of Steven Spielberg’s historically accurate, holocaust guilt-fest Schindler’s List (1993). Although not quite as moving as Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) which analyses the same moment in history albeit from a different angle, Schindler’s List is a captivating film depicting the life of heroic Nazi party member Oskar Schindler as he helped to free over 1,100 Jews from the clutches of the German army. This may be one of the few films where Neeson doesn’t deliver an emotionless performance but then it is difficult to tell whether or not the sentiment in the climax of the tale has actually moved him to tears and his performance is more akin to reality TV than acting. This may sound harsh in a film that is universally lauded and is likely to be for a long time to come given it’s depiction of the most heinous evil but Neeson himself is by no means the star of the show, even though he is, if you see what I mean. Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes both loom large in front of Neeson and even if you consider his performance to be on a par with the two more gifted men mentioned in this sentence then it would also be fair to say that it is in fact an aberration. It is the exception that proves the rule and here are a few contemporary examples of why:

 

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) – Neeson’s Character – Quai-Gon Jinn

Where to begin with this disaster of a film? Of course it would be unfair to lay all the problems of the beginning of one of the greatest filmic follies of all time squarely on Neeson’s shoulders, although it is tempting. Lucas has been maligned for his abomination which brought the world the infamous Jar-Jar Binks, but what of Neeson’s performance as Jedi elder Quai-Gon Jinn. Possibly the worst Jedi of all time, Jinn seems to bumble through the movie, trying to teach Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker at the same time. As badly written as his character is, Neeson makes the situation worse by trying to provide a faint sense of dignity and wisdom, instead appearing rather aloof in tense situations and constantly bewildered by the fast moving crises presented to him. His Lightsaber duel is rather due to his age and athleticism and just when you thought he was dead, manages to squeeze in a rather pathetic little speech to young Obi-Wan. The burning of his body is his best scene.

 

Love Actually (2003) – Neeson’s Chracter – Daniel

This is a movie that splits genders more fiercely than its predecessor Four Weddings and a Funeral. Over time Four Weddings… has become an acceptable watch for many males but Love Actually certainly does not fall into that category. Never mind its manipulative, multi-stranded story and false depictions of relationships yet there is not one performance among the lot, and there are many, that even comes close to those of Simon Callow and John Hannah in Four Weddings… Even the much maligned Hugh Grant makes for a loveable figure in comparison to Neeson’s rather flat appearance as Daniel and when a male begins to take Hugh Grant’s side n anything, we have serious problems. Mr Neeson finds himself in what should be a very moving storyline, a widower connecting with his son over the death of their wife and mother, and in a similar scene to that of Hannah in Four Weddings… Neeson finds himself performing a eulogy. He gets through it, just, but his relationship with his son is where the true performance occurs. The Irish actor is akin to a robot or alien life form learning what it means to be human with help from a child. The boy does his best to help the poor animatronic man but has his work cut out. Neeson’s performance is comedic but only because it is a beguiling situation of watching him try to be quirky and fun for his defenceless son. No child should be subjected to that. The comedy comes from the poor boy trying to keep Liam on track and teach him the ways of humanity.

 

Batman Begins (2005) – Neeson’s Character – Ducard

Arguably the best of Nolan’s trilogy of films starring the Bat, one that Neeson couldn’t possibly screw up, but God loves a try-er. Somehow Christopher Nolan managed to make what is fundamentally an art-house movie on a blockbusters budget but our Irish antagonist was not up to the task. With excellent performances all round from Christian Bale to Gary Oldman, even much maligned Katie Holmes manages to dodge the bullets that are deflected by Neeson’s portrayal of Ducard. The man is supposed to be the henchmen of ninja/evil/genius/sometimes-mute Ras Al Ghul, but he seems to pick up where he left Quai-Gon Jinn, and adds a pinch of dastardly plotting. Now, superb writing helps to mask the same wooden performance he gives in all his movies but if you look very closely it’s there. Like a snake in the grass waiting to strike and bite you in the testes (substitute female anatomy if suitable), if you don’t look hard you may not spot it but spend a little time searching and its bound to get you. Like a crap version of Mickey from Rocky ,Ducard gets the soon to be Batman ready with a series of tests, montage style. Ducard’s approach is verbose as opposed to Mickey’s growling but I’ll tell you something, Rocky doesn’t kill Mickey in the end. That says it all really.

 

Ponyo (2008) – Neeson’s Character – Fujimoto

This should be moot as the film was originally made in Japanese but of course it was redubbed for the discerning US and UK public. The redubbing included many prominent voice actors such as Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas but its Liam Neeson as the wizard of the ocean Fujimoto which really takes the biscuit. This could be down to a casting error but it might have been nice had Mr Neeson realised the folly of casting him as a strange, effeminate wizard and declined the position. Never one to turn down a role he is clearly wrong for he decided to take it of course, leaving us with a gruff Irish version of Fujimoto. Talented voice actors can adapt their voice to match the character but Neeson, like an Irish Sean Connery, can’t be bothered with that. His voice is one of his only redeeming features but in this case it wildly misses the mark, which I suppose comes as no surprise.

 

Taken 2 (2012) – Neeson’s Character – Bryan Mills

It isn’t worth getting into just how appalling this film actually is; suffice it to say that it is a travesty of humanity, an insult to mankind. Neeson is of course an integral factor in this apocalypse of awful. Never mind that the 60 year old man is somehow fighting his way across a continent, dispatching many armed militia along the way whilst looking like a podgy middle class retiree, but he also seems to have neglected the lessons of the first instalment of this shit-storm franchise. After having his daughter kidnapped by Albanian rebels in the first film, Bryan Mills decides to invite his family on a trip to Istanbul. Of course this isn’t Neeson’s fault but his performance neglects the gravity of the situation, like a man who has shat himself and thinks no one else has noticed. He meanders through the first half of the movie with a faint sense of arrogance about his little bit of knowledge of Istanbul. Watching Neeson try to pull of casual conversation with his daughter and ex-wife is like watching a horse try to book an online flight, neither have the skills or indeed the physical attributes to complete the task. Once the shit starts to hit the fan our Irish hero desperately tries to convey the appropriate emotions but appears closer to a dementia inflicted person trying to remember where they put the keys, and once they find them, what the keys are for. Why anyone ever thought that Liam Neeson would be a good action movie star beggar’s belief. The man makes Steven Seagal look like Lawrence Olivier. Taken 2 may well be the half digested cherry on top of the pyramid of excrement that is Mr Neeson’s acting career.

 

To clarify something, there is no hate or even dislike for the man that is Liam Neeson in this thought process. In fact he appears from interviews to be charming and even vaguely humourous, but as an actor, well if you have made it this far you know the overall sentiment. Neeson is something of a testament to talentless people everywhere who want to make some money and become famous. To them he should be a beacon of hope, a religious idol to be followed. To others he is the man you would lose track of in a forest, but then even that insult may offend the luxurious foliage and ethereal beauty of the world’s dense treed areas. However he does remain a prominent figure in Hollywood today and to that it must be said, congratulations Liam Neeson, you fooled us all.

 

Follow Jonny on Twitter @joffglen or https://twitter.com/joffglen

About The Author

Jonathan went back to university to study Film Journalism in Glasgow in 2012 and hasn't looked back since. Writing for the Edinburgh Internation Film Festival, The Birmingham Review, The Electrolyte Magazine as well as Front Row Reviews he enjoys working across media and if not lambasting folk about politics it's film on his agenda. Working in The Electric Cinema in Birmingham has allowed him to come closer to the medium he loves, his favourite filmmaker is Wong Kar-Wai.

6 Responses

  1. Kathy

    Jeez, now did you manage to miss the clusterf*** “the Grey?” Not only did he insult wolves everywhere, but he then bragged about eating wolf meat. And how about his love scene in “Unknown?” You know the one where he looks like a high school principal nailing an icy-looking cheerleader in a shower. You know I can’t wait to see him in “third Person” where they pair him up with yet another 20 something-Olivia. Creepy. Like the uncle that comes to Thanksgiving dinner, gets really drunk, and hits on hits on every female in the place. Even the dog hides…

    Reply
  2. Marcy

    This is a bunch of bull’s dribble. Jonny Glen is a nobody who is trying to get attention by criticizing one of the most loved and popular actors of our time. Liam is an extremely talented and hard working actor. He has earned his success in the theater and film industry through perseverance and a good reputation. Many lessons could be learned by studying his career and progress. He doesn’t pretend to have starred in the best movies ever made but he has continued working unlike other actors like Daniel Day who only do one film a decade or actors who only choose the very best roles for the most money. It has only been since his beloved wife died that he has gotten the attention he has long deserved. It was all the publicity surrounding that tragic event that made Taken so popular and people noticed him. In most cases, Liam is the redeeming light in the not so great movies he has acted in but they were all stepping stones. I have enjoyed seeing Liam’s hard work pay off. He is humble, generous and down to earth. He has a stellar reputation in both his professional and personal life. I disagree with Jonny and his analysis of these films. I have seen all of the movies mentioned and many more of Liam’s films not mentioned. I have never been disappointed with his performances. I would take Liam over Daniel Day Lewis and many other actors ANY DAY because of his hard work, talent and genuine goodness.

    Reply
  3. Mayda

    I have to agree with Marcy, I think this piece was written to ride on a good mans coat tails. Jonathan who?

    Reply
  4. Callum

    “Liam over Daniel Day Lewis and many other actors ANY DAY because of his hard work, talent and genuine goodness”

    Marcy, are you high?

    This article is spot on.

    Reply
  5. Adri

    hahaha,
    oh boy, Jonny you just made me laugh.
    Good article although i don’t entirely agree with you. Some actors are good at being themselves (see Al Pacino).
    Anyway, Marcy, Daniel Day Lewis has more talent in his dribbling saliva than Liam 😉 (see my left foot)
    Thanks Jonathan Glen

    Reply
  6. Ben

    This article has 5 comments… Obviously very few people read this long bull crap to the very end. I decided to read it just to see what other non-sense you could spew. Thanks for wasting my time, Marcy you’re a 100 % right.
    And Daniel Day who?
    Neeson over him ten times out of ten.

    Reply

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