For someone who takes film pretty seriously, I enjoy a good cheeseball action flick as much as the next guy. Particularly when said cheeseball action flick stars “the thinking man’s badass” Liam Neeson.
You may remember Neeson from such highbrow roles as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, Rob Roy McGregor in the titular Scottish historical drama, or Alfred Kinsey in the American biopic Kinsey. Neeson, who was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for Schindler’s List, is an unusual kind of leading man. He’s tall and angular and handsome in the way that many headlining actors are, but he also has this other quality, a deep, smoldering subtext that comes out through his eyes and lends him to playing deeply conflicted characters like Oskar Schindler and Ethan Frome (if you haven’t seen it, this one’s well worth a watch on a snowy evening). He’s also turned out to be a surprisingly hilarious straight man, thanks to some help from Ricky Gervais.
While Neeson’s resume is peppered with classic films like those mentioned above, as well as a few unfortunate ones like The A-Team, he has in the last few years proven an adept action hero. In films like Taken, Unknown and most recently, The Grey, Neeson kicks ass and takes names, while creating something of a personal action genre. While the Van Dammes, Segals and Stallones of generations past were wise-cracking brawlers with questionable depth of character, Neeson’s style is far more intellectual and precise. Rather than a working class dude with a chip on his shoulder and a black belt in street fighting, he tends towards playing white collar professionals with real emotional depth–and often a black belt in street fighting, too.
In The Grey, Neeson plays a killer for hire, one who’s employed to cull wolves at a remote northern oil-drilling camp. When he and a group of roughnecks are stranded in the arctic wilderness, and stalked by a pack of vicious grey wolves, he is forced to use his wits and brawn to survive. Any Neeson fan will already be sold by that synopsis (if not by the shot of Neeson fending off wolves with a fistful of broken minibar bottles above), but I’ll seal the deal by reporting that the film, while not particularly strong in dialogue, characters or narrative, is compelling, suspenseful and unpredictable to the end. Also, it’s Neeson bad-assery at its finest.
Check out the trailer for proof. And if you’re still not sold, read this. The Grey probably won’t win any major awards, but it’s highly entertaining.