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By: Alex Arabian
To say the actor has range would be an understatement, which explains why he has so many fans from so many different demographic backgrounds. With so many different films under his belt since 1978, we decided to take a look at the legendary thespian’s work and narrow it down to his ten best films.
It’s not easy to choose just ten movies in a filmography that includes 137 acting credits. Neeson is a workhorse, and it shows in every frame. It’s no wonder that auteurs such as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese have chosen to work with him over the years. Liam Neeson appeals to everyone and every genre, and this list reflects that.
Before he starred in Batman Begins, Liam Neeson played a superhero of Frankenstein-esque proportions in Darkman. Directed by Sam Raimi, and written as an ode to Universal monster movies, Darkman is a gory, weird, and tragic film that Neeson’s Dr. Peyton Wilder carries on his mangled back. At the time, Neeson was a relatively unknown actor, but Universal rolled the dice on the cast due to both Raimi’s TheEvil Dead franchise success and the success of Tim Burton’s Batman the year prior. Unlike Schindler’s List, released three years later, Neeson’s Dr. Wilder is loud, boisterous, and unpredictable. It’s a fun performance to revisit.
Although, on its surface, it appears like a Liam Neeson versus arctic wolves action film, it is also a thoughtful meditation on death and the fleeting nature of life. One of Neeson’s first forays into the action genre, The Grey was filmed under equally brutal conditions as the wolves attacks on the characters. Neeson shot the film seven hours a night in -35 degree weather, with the cameras, cast, and crew constantly freezing, and still managed to give a compelling performance. He delivers the the film’s verbal motif with compelling passion, “Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.” With such nuance, it gives the audience chills akin to being in the subzero Alaskan wilderness.
In A Monster Calls, Liam Neeson voices the monster, and his deep, grunting voice is perfect for the voiceover performance. As close to a family film on this list, Neeson’s tree monster, simply named “The Monster,” initially a source of fear for the film’s boy, eventually serves as a sounding board and vehicle to help him cope with his dying mother while she endures her chemotherapy treatments. In a tale of allegorical stories, childhood fantasies, and escapism, Neeson delivers one of his finest performances to date.
You’ve likely quoted Neeson’s iconic “I will find you” monologue in this film, or at least heard your friends, acquaintances, or various pop culture parodies do it. In Taken, Neeson plays a man with a very particular set of skills, who, after his daughter gets kidnapped, goes on a one man killing spree to save her. It’s the film that solidified Neeson as an action star, and prompted two successful sequels. Still, this film remains the finest of the trilogy, simply because audiences hadn’t been exposed to the physical dexterity, vengeful tone-of-voice, and explosive angriness that Neeson had buried inside of him, and the trilogy’s revenge formula was fresh and exciting.
Honest Thief places Liam Neeson front and center of an FBI scandal. As a former bank robber wanted by the federal authorities, Neeson’s character, Tom Dolan, another former marine, cuts a deal with the FBI, only to be double-crossed, as the agents who capture him are after the money he’s stored away. Dolan wasn’t in it for the money, but rather the thrill of getting away with breaking the law. Fist fights, car chases, and unexpected explosions – all ingredients for a great Neeson action flick, in which, of course, the seasoned actor always comes out on top. Neeson was typically critically lauded for his ability to carry the film.
One of Liam Neeson’s latest and most politically current action thrillers, The Marksman follows former marine and farmer in Arizona Jim Hanson, who becomes the protector of a young Mexican boy fleeing cartel sicarios. After calling border patrol, things only get worse, and Jim must reconcile with the damage he’s caused, so he decides to take the young boy to his family in Chicago. The Marksman is a grim tale of corruption, failure, and redemption. Neeson is typically strong as the quite farmer-turned-badass guardian, willing to put his life on the line for justice – a common theme throughout his action characters.
Someone was bound to make a thriller about ice road truckers, about which an extremely popular show has been made. And fans and critics alike were glad they did it with Liam Neeson leading the cast. The Ice Road tells the tale of an ice driver who embarks upon an impossible rescue mission after a diamond mine collapses in a remote region in Canada. Neeson must cross a frozen ocean in order to save the lives of miners trapped in the accident, all while the ocean thaws and the threat of corrupt insurance company agents close in on him. Neeson plays a subdued, if resolute character with both PTSD and aphasia, admirably conveying mental illness.
The first film in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman Begins took an entirely new, gritty direction in the superhero genre – one that films like it would attempt to emulate in years to come. Liam Neeson brought the popular villain Ra’s al Ghul to life from the DC comics with both pathos and cunning intelligence. Standing at 6’4″, Neeson’s screen presence even intimidates the young Bruce Wayne throughout the film. It doesn’t hurt that Neeson brings a fair amount of fighting prowess and clever, stinging one liners to his performance. It’s an iconic role he would revisit in the third and final chapter of the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.
Silence, a 159-minute film based on the true story of 17th-century Jesuit priests (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), who embark on a journey to Japan to rescue their mentor (Liam Neeson), marks Neeson’s second film with Scorsese after Gangs of New York. Neeson gives a subdued performance. Through his character, who denounced Jesus, became a Buddhist, and inherited a Japanese family from executed Japanese Christian men, Scorsese creates a cautionary tale of the perils of missionaries overstepping their boundaries, as the Japanese people never needed saving. Neeson lost nearly 20 during the tough production schedule. Although Silence isn’t Scorsese’s most popular film, it is a passion project he spent thirty years trying to make, and it speaks volumes that he cast Neeson as one of its main characters.
Arguably Steven Spielberg’s most critically acclaimed film, Schindler’s List, based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, made Liam Neeson a star. The film covers Schindler’s creation of an enamelware factory employing Jewish essential workers so as to avoid them being taken to concentration camps, his close relationship with the SS Nazis, his change of heart to save as many Jews as possible, and his ultimate prevention of Jews being taken from the city of Brünnlitz to Auschwitz. Through Spielberg’s use of black, white, and red, he emphasizes Schindler’s change of heart, which Neeson so eloquently portrays. Neeson doesn’t play a man with a perfect moral compass, and the complexities of this is acted to perfection through his subtle facial expressions and soft-spoken delivery.
Originally posted on Movie Web