Much of the fun of 2008s Taken was watching beloved thespian Liam Neeson go all Chuck Norris in a dirty little Euro trash thriller.
In the action adventure movie Neeson played a former “preventer” for the US government. A specialist in black ops, he was an undercover agent who contained volatile situations before they got out of control. Retired, he lived in Los Angeles near his estranged seventeen-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). When she is kidnapped by a child slavery ring he has only 96 hours to use his “particular set of skills” to get her back. His rescue mission takes him on a wild rampage through the soft underbelly of Paris. “I’ll tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to,” he says.
It’s a down-and-dirty little flick, classed up somewhat by the presence of Neeson in the lead role and it became an unexpected lightening-in-a-bottle hit. It also redefined Neeson’s recent career.
At an age when many actors are staring down the barrel of character parts and cameos, the sixty-one year old has made an unlikely U-turn into action movies. “I was a tiny bit embarrassed by it, “ he says of Taken, “but then people started sending me action scripts.”
Arguably best known for his Best Actor Oscar nomination as the charismatic but humble German businessman Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, the Irish actor has fully embraced his new career path. Vanity Fair even acknowledged the twist in an article called, “Wham! Bam! Thank You, Liam!”
His latest actioner is Non-Stop, a high-flying thriller that takes place on an international crossing from New York to London. Neeson is an air marshal who must prevent a crazed killer from murdering passengers in flight.
The actor’s rebirth as a gun-toting, neck snapping gravel-voiced Stallonite™—aging action star—works not only because he has the physical presence to be taken seriously as a hard man, but also because he has the acting chops to make us believe him as a ruthless and efficient killing machine.
Taken and Taken 2 (which were essentially the same movie) worked not just because the action sequences were out of control, but because audiences had some empathy for Neeson’s character as he kicked butt across Europe. It was a personal mission; he was trying to get his daughter back.
Action movies like Wrath of the Titans, The Grey and Unknown may not burnish Neeson’s rep as a great thespian, but when asked why he keeps making them, he has a solid reason: “Because they’re dumb enough to offer them to me!”