How many other 64-year-old actors will have three feature films opening over the Christmas season? Or is Liam Neeson the only one? The man works a lot – three or four movies per year for the last couple of decades, and this year his films all arrive in the same two-week period: first the South Korean war drama Operation Chromite, then Martin Scorsese’s historical epic Silence and A Monster Calls. Next year, he will return to the tender embrace of Euro-hack action director Jaume Collet-Serra – who also directed Non-Stop and Unknown – for The Commuter.
It’s this cadet branch of Neeson’s career – the two-fisted senior-citizen action movies he has been making since Pierre Morel’s Taken in 2008 – that has held most people’s interest over the last decade. Sure, he can play General Douglas MacArthur in Chromite and a Catholic missionary in Silence and deliver convincing performances, but he keeps getting drawn back into the Euro-action vortex, each time with vastly diminishing returns. We’ve had two Taken sequels (directed by that especially egregious hack Olivier Megaton), Unknown and Non-Stop. And certain tendencies, tics and tropes of those movies apparently dictated Liam’s involvement with equally underwhelming US action thrillers such as A Walk Among The Tombstones, The Next Three Days and Battleship.
I enjoyed all this when it started. Taken came four years before superb whiteout tundra-thriller The Grey, and I, like many others, was smitten with the idea of a man pushing 60 turning into a righteous killing machine with “a very particular set of skills…” And, since I was born in Northern Ireland, about 40 miles down the road from Neeson’s home town, I’ve always been really glad to hear that accent onscreen.
But there’s a limit. The Commuter may prove an upward blip, but I’d rather hope that Silence portends a return to deep-dish projects. Action movie-wise, I’m reminded of The Delta Force, in which Neeson was uncredited muscle alongside Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin, that most poignant of elderly action-heroes, in his truly miserable final movie. Sooner or later, Neeson may turn into 1980s Charles Bronson, wandering dolefully from set to set as the scripts keep worsening, the directors get increasingly hackish, but the cheques keep steadily rolling in. This is the man who played Oskar Schindler, after all; Sir Gawain in Excalibur, Michael Collins – not a resource that should be wasted. We deserve better, and we all know he can do better. It’s time. Come back, Liam!
Operation Chromite is in cinemas from Boxing Day; Silence and A Monster Calls from New Year’s Day
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