Brian Henry Martin at the movies

Liam Neeson: Action Hero

Published Thursday, 02 February 2012
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Slowing down? No, he's speeding up!

Liam Neeson will be 60 this year but instead of slowing down, the big man from Ballymena is speeding up, as he has become the most bankable action hero in the world. His latest ice-cold thriller, The Grey, is currently the number one movie at the US box office.

While the action man careers of Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme and Bruce Willis are all beginning to creak, Neeson is hitting a popularity peak. He is now a genuine movie star with cash power to open movies with his name above the title and his face on the poster.

I think the secret of this renaissance is simple. For unlike many action heroes (see the wooden Sam Worthington in the formulaic Man On A Ledge), Neeson is a great actor. His face of granite is not stone cold but cavern deep.

Who else could play Oskar Schindler, Rob Roy, Michael Collins, Alfred Kinsey and Aslan the lion?

The very best big men of cinema are more than just brute strength: Victor McLaglen or Robert Shaw, Sean Connery or Tommy Lee Jones; they all have pathos as well as punch. These are men of little words, who don't have to shout and bawl to make their point, a robust whisper will stop all in their tracks.

After the disappointing big screen version of The A-Team, Director Joe Carnahan and Liam Neeson team up again with The Grey. This time they need no plan B as this is a first class action flick with plenty of bite, wolf bite!

In The Grey, Liam Neeson leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks in a desperate fight for survival after their plane crashes in the remote Alaskan wilderness. Not only do Neeson and his wild bunch have to battle the merciless weather and their own inner demons, but also a vicious pack of rogue wolves.

Neeson is a powerful presence on screen. You believe every word he says. Even the clunkiest of lines sound profound when delivered in that rasping Ulster accent. And let me tell you if I was stranded in the wild being hunted by blood thirsty wolves, I would want Liam Neeson by my side!

The Grey is a white-knuckled pursuit through the stunning snowscape of Alaska. Director Carnahan has the audience frozen to the edge of their seats, whether spectacularly crashing out of the sky or plunging into icy rapids. This is man versus nature, Neeson versus wolf, gripping stuff!

So, 'Beware the Liam In Winter' declared the US movie trade papers when The Grey opened last week to both critical and commercial acclaim. Neeson for the last few January's has set a normally cool time at the cinema box office on fire with a set of superior action films.

It all started back in 2008 with the action thriller Taken, and the career defining role of the no nonsense kidnap busting mad dad Bryan Mills. Who can forget the now immortal lines "I don't know who you are. But if you don't let my daughter go, I will find you, I will kill you."

Taken took the cinema by storm, making its money back in its opening weekend, and going on to gross $150 million. No surprise then, that Liam Neeson is currently filming Taken 2 in Los Angeles and Istanbul.

In 2009, he took the brave step after the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson to throw himself into his work. In the last three years he has appeared in an incredible 14 films. And his efforts, which were undoubtedly at a very difficult time, have been rewarded with his professional standing higher than ever.

When it has come to his career, Liam Neeson has never followed the pack, he has always been a lone wolf. So, as he approaches 60, we can wish him happy birthday and happy hunting in Hollywood for great new films like The Grey.

The Grey (Cert 15) is now on general release.

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.


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