It’s been a really no good, rotten, bad week for Liam Neeson the person.
While promoting his new movie, “Cold Pursuit,” the 66-year-old actor gave one of the most boneheaded interviews ever when he told the UK’s Independent about an experience almost four decades ago when a female friend of his was raped by a black man. Neeson was so enraged, he said, he wanted to kill any man of that race.
“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that,” he said. “I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”
There was, to put it mildly, a backlash.
All of Neeson’s red carpet and other planned promotional events for the revenge thriller were cancelled. In a forlorn attempt to salvage the situation he went on “Good Morning America” to explain his remarks to Robin Roberts.
“I’m not racist,” he said, reiterating his batty story and adding that he eventually addressed his disturbing feelings with a therapist and a priest. “This was nearly 40 years ago.” Neeson’s candid admission was a gargantuan error that will, without question, negatively affect his legacy forever.
Meanwhile, it’s been a pretty good week for Liam Neeson the actor.
That film he wasn’t step-and-repeating for, “Cold Pursuit,” is a rollicking good time and one of the action star’s better revenge tales. Unlike the sad drudgery of “Taken,” “Cold Pursuit” is a satirical caper. Neeson is as violent and angry as ever, but the story cleverly subverts your expectations every snowy step of the way.
Even the setup — his snow-plowman character’s 20-something son getting kidnapped and murdered, and Neeson vowing to find and kill the perps — makes you go “Not this again!” But it quickly gets turned on its head, as he offs thug after thug, and it becomes an evisceration of the drug trade. Jokes and wickedness abound.
So, suffice it say, it has been a damn confusing week for the fans.
Neeson has called “Cold Pursuit” his final action film, capping off a long career in the genre. This didn’t leave too many people sobbing, because most of his recent thrillers have been schlocky and repetitive. “Schindler’s List” Neeson was better than “Taken” Neeson. Those later films felt like the output of a man nearing retirement.
But “Cold Pursuit” is stark and refreshing, like taking an icy swim with the Polar Bear Club. A jolt. The movie makes you want him to stay around for a while longer. His remarks, on the other hand, make you want him to stay far, far away.
I’ve often wondered what made Neeson so adept at playing shattered souls who can kill without a second thought. This week, he answered that question in the most unsettling way possible. If, in order to play his frightening characters believably, he needs to tap into the sick dreams of a demented past, perhaps it’s not worth it for anybody.
“Cold Pursuit” is an excellent film. It’s also Liam Neeson’s last action movie — and should be.
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