5 Great (Mostly) Forgotten Films with Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson has reinvented himself as an action hero as he ages, single-handedly creating a new genre of film where older men take up arms. Before all that, Neeson’s impressive list of movie roles is one of the most distinguished in the business with high profile parts in Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot and George Lucas’ second Star Wars trilogy. Here are 5 great (mostly) forgotten films Neeson had starring roles in that you need to see.
Leap of Faith (1992)
Neeson plays Sheriff Braverman, the small town lawman for a local community that sees a traveling Miracles & Wonder show roll in and take over. Steve Martin is Jonas Nightengale, a faith healer with a glitzy show and lots of cons for swindling the good people of their hard-earned money. Braverman is suspicious from the start and investigates, uncovering the truth about the showman even though it does little to open the eyes of the town who are soon swooning for more from the miracle man. Meanwhile, Braverman is falling in love Nightengale’s assistant Jane Larson (Debra Winger), who herself is growing tired of the con game racket.
Directed by Richard Pearce, Leap of Faith is a Martin movie for sure, but Neeson has a big part and his presence is the most grounded. He’s the voice of reason and skepticism, unmoved and unconvinced by the theatrics of what is happening on stage. A quiet, introspective role, this is a long way from the coldblooded killer characters Neeson has made his current wheelhouse (he collects butterflies for goodness sake!). A great romantic/comedy, this is a winner.
Before and After (1996)
Neeson plays Ben Ryan, a sculptor and husband to Dr. Carolyn Ryan (Meryl Streep), living in Massachusetts. Their lives are upended when police arrive to tell them that their son Jacob’s (Edward Furlong) girlfriend has been murdered and Jacob is the suspect. He’s gone missing and they need the Ryan’s help in finding him. Carolyn wants to support the police but Ben is reserved and refuses to cooperate without warrants and in the interim, finds clues that implicate his boy. He burns them and sets about trying to find Jacob on his own.
Directed by Barbet Schroeder, Before and After is a tense thriller led by commanding performances from Streep and Neeson. While the film suffers a bit in casting and some storytelling elements that raise some questions, it’s all swept away when Neeson in on screen, playing a father clearly making terrible decisions and facing the consequences as they come. Too bad he hadn’t developed his particular set of skills yet.
Neeson plays Dr. Jerome “Jerry” Lovell, a practitioner in the North Carolina mountains who discovers a young woman hiding in the isolated cabin of a recently deceased woman. She is aggressive and seems to speak an unknown language. A note in the house tells the finder to please take care of ‘Nell’ (Jodi Foster). Jerry asks Dr. Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson), a researcher working with autistic children, for help and her colleague Dr. Alexander “Al” Paley (Richard Libertini) thinks she is a genuine “feral child”. Opinions differ and Jerry becomes defensive of the girl, believing she is more than she seems and deserves to remain where she is. A friendship forms and it soon comes to a legal battle to decide her fate.
Directed by Michael Apted, this unique drama is a touching story about human rights and dignity with a stirring performance by Foster, who creates a sensationally effective character out of Nell. Neeson, who again we associate now as a cold tough guy, is decidedly tender, a compassionate figure with sincere ambitions. He finds love with one woman and has love for the other in entirely different ways. It’s a great performance and one that should be seen.
The Bounty (1984)
Neeson plays Seaman Charles Churchill, a crew member on the infamous Bounty, a ship captained by the now iconic William Bligh (Anthony Hopkins), who reportedly was not only obsessive in his quest to bring the ship around the notoriously harsh Cape Horn but also brutal on the men. Led by his former friend and first mate Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson), the crew raise a mutiny that put Bligh and a few followers adrift at sea. Neeson’s role is small but significant as a rebellious man taken in by the exotic life in Tahiti where the ship is forced to stay for several months.
Directed by Roger Donaldson, this epic sea adventure is a rousing, character-driven drama that paints the well-known players a bit differently than expected. While his is undoubtedly a Gibson and Hopkins film, there are a number of soon-to-be famous actors in support, including a young Daniel Day-Lewis. Neeson, is quite memorable as Churchill and while limited on screen, carries great weight in transitioning the story to the third act. A great film and fun early role for Neeson.
Seraphim Falls (2006)
Neeson plays Colonel Morsman Carver, a former US Confederate officer turner bounty hunter on the hunt for Gideon (Pierce Brosnan), a Union Soldier hiding in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada. Carver leads a posse against the resourceful and resilient Gideon as he eludes capture time and time again, managing to dispatch some of Carver’s men as he goes. The shared past between Carver and Gideon is both tragic and violent, a bond that is as horrifying as it is unfortunate, but has shaped both their lives. Gideon wants only to live with burden of a terrible choice, but it’s not enough for Carver who vows to see him die.
Directed by David Von Ancken, the film relies a lot on atmosphere and the intense performances of the leads, whom both are excellent. Brosnan and Neeson are riveting and very compelling as they drop their accents and take on American roles. They are gritty, and the film is dark and tragic. While the story de-evolves from an epic chase movie to an oddly mystical finale featuring an ambiguous appearance by Angelica Houston, it doesn’t diminish the powerful pairing of Bronson and Neeson. They’re brilliant.