It's interesting that Cole Smithey would evoke the name of Nicolas Cage when commenting on Liam Neeson's recent fondness for genre pictures that would seem beneath his talents. In his review of Unknown, which opens here at 12:01 a.m. tonight, Smithey says, “How Liam Neeson went from being that rare thespian animal of a leading-man character actor to a full-on action star while still keeping his artistic integrity is a mystery. It's certainly more than Nicolas Cage could do.”
While the latter is hard to argue against — though I'm not giving up hope on Cage just yet (see 2009's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) — I'm not so sure the former is still accurate.
Here's Neeson's films since Taken, an uncommonly pungent and well-crafted thriller, broke through as an unexpected hit in 2008: Chloe, an Atom Egoyan morality play that devolves into a late-night Cinemax potboiler by its overheated climax; Five Minutes of Heaven, a little-seen Irish crime tale about a murderer (Neeson) who meets his victim's brother 30 years after the deed; After.Life, a macabre little film about a funeral director (Neeson) and a naked corpse played by Christina Ricci; Clash of the Titans, a crass remake of a mediocre yet oddly beloved movie from the early ’80s; The A-Team, a lame remake of a mediocre yet oddly beloved TV show from the early ’80s; and The Next Three Days, a logistically challenged crime thriller in which our man in question plays an ex-con.
That brings us to Unknown, a thriller in which Neeson plays a man struggling to piece his life back together following a car accident. But that's not all: Later this year Neeson will play a guy called “Tattoo Man” in Hangover Part II, and 2012 promises the big guy as the admiral in Battleship, a film adaptation of the Milton Bradley game of the same name (yes, you read that correctly), which will be followed by Wrath of the Titans, a sequel to the aforementioned Clash.
All of which brings us to the elephant in the room: How did the accidental 2009 death of Neeson's wife, Natasha Richardson, influence his otherwise inexplicable immersion in dark-hued, B-level material marked by violence, crime and/or relationships in peril?