We live in a dark time—dangers are plenty, evil is epidemic. But keeping these treacheries at bay is a colossal force of good. A dominating falcon of purity, might and wonder. And a pretty good actor, too. Of course I am referring to the masterful Liam Neeson—an actor who has delivered fantasy, historical drama, and action-packed excitement with a charm and fervor unparalleled in contemporary cinema.
This Friday, Neeson will reaffirm his apex of indomitability via a subarctic faceoff with a ravenous wolf pack in The Grey. And though perhaps there is nothing more quintessentially Neeson than a plot like this, the actor’s life and career have taken him through a variety of characters and worlds, dating back to his pre-performing days in Ireland.
Neeson’s career prior to acting is famously colorful. The young man supported himself as a forklift operator, a truck driver, and, most interestingly, a boxer. Neeson has stated publicly that he recalls giving up professional fighting shortly after undertaking a match with a broken nose, which caused him to black out.
Although he had been experienced with stage acting from an early age, Neeson’s first film role came at age twenty-nine, in 1981. Neeson played Sir Gaiwan in John Boorman’s Excalibur, a film that starred Helen Mirren and Nigel Terry.
Six years later, Neeson earned critical acclaim for his portrayal of a deaf and mute Vietnam veteran in Suspect, opposite Cher and Dennis Quaid. But the actor’s name really came to the public’s attention after the 1990 action/sci-fi, Darkman. Neeson played a mentally unstable scientist who adopted the masked vigilante persona of “Darkman” after suffering grotesque disfigurement at the hands of a group of criminals.
Through the ‘90s, Neeson’s career flourished. He and his wife Natasha Richardson starred alongside Jodie Foster in Nell. But the role to which Neeson truly owes his years of celebration is Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Since 1994, there has, arguably, not been a single movie that has lived up to the terrific power that Schindler’s List embodied—this is due to the heavy subject matter and the artistic vision of director Spielberg, but also in no small part to the magnificent performance of Neeson as the hero to the Jewish people that was Oskar Schindler.
After this, Neeson found praise for roles like the title character in the period piece Michael Collins, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination. Three years later, Neeson lived out every young boy’s dream by engaging in battle alongside Obi Wan Kenobi as the sage Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The turn of the century rewarded Neeson with a slew of intriguing roles. The biopic film Kinsey proved that the actor who has come to be synonymous with bravado and might could also play intellectual, introspective and progressive characters.
Again, Neeson signed on for a dream role of children anywhere: playing the first major villain in Christopher Nolan’s magnificent reimagining of the Batman universe: Ra’s a Ghul (passing himself off as a role model to the Dark Knight until his malevolent intentions are eventually discovered) in 2005’s Batman Begins.
Finally, we recall with enthusiasm the exciting action thriller Taken, in which Neeson had a grand old time touring Europe on a quest to rescue his daughter from a dastardly kidnapping ring. Whereas another performer might have carried this role as your run-of-the-mill action hero, Neeson’s special flair made Taken one of the most fun and adventurous pictures of 2008.
And now, we await The Grey, which promises both the wily adventure and introspective nature of which Neeson has proven himself an expert. Beyond this, we can predict more fun, more excitement, more drama, more history…there is nothing that can stop Liam Neeson. Not Sith Lords. Not the sexually conservative. Not wolves. Nothing.
Well, I guess Batman kind of did…but that doesn’t count.
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