Widows is out now! Get your tickets here!
I don’t consider it a spoiler to say that Liam Neeson is not in much of Steve McQueen’s new film Widows. After years of playing the terse, driven killer seeking revenge, he’s now the MacGuffin that sends Viola Davis off on her own righteous murder spree. The irony of his casting underlines the freshness of a female-led revenge crime movie, one far more satisfying than this year’s clumsy Peppermint—a film that was directed by Neeson’s Taken partner, Pierre Morel.
This is not the first time Neeson has popped in and out of a film, affording a motion picture a tiny morsel of his gravitas before he shuffles off. In fact, his filmography is littered with cameos, supporting roles, and the like. In many of them, his character kicks the bucket. In that sense, Liam Neeson was Sean Bean before Sean Bean was out here croaking in everything.
Husbands and Wives
He was not yet a true movie star at this point, but Neeson had starred in Darkman by the time he appeared in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives as the new boyfriend of Mia Farrow’s character, Judy. His part in the film is pretty thankless, as he is neither one of the Husbands nor is he one of the Wives. That said, there was a time when actors would beg to work with Woody Allen and would gladly accept table scraps to do so. I know, weird.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
This is an uncredited voice cameo. Does that count? Of course it does. Neeson’s character, Qui-Gon Jinn, has become something of a footnote in Star Wars history, mostly due to the fact that the vast majority of Star Wars fans hate everything about Episode I. In a sense, you could consider Qui-Gon Liam Neeson’s ultimate minor role, even if he’s ostensibly the protagonist of The Phantom Menace.
Gangs of New York
As Priest Vallon, Neeson exists only to be killed by Bill the Butcher, giving his son Amsterdam a reason to exact revenge in the latter section of the movie. Despite his star power, Neeson isn’t even on the poster for Gangs of New York, which makes it pretty obvious what his fate will be. Between this and Star Wars, Neeson was beginning to develop a reputation as an excellent father figure character, one that simply needed to die.
Kingdom of Heaven
This time, Neeson plays the father of Orlando Bloom, who, you guessed it, dies early in the film. He lives long enough to knight Bloom’s character and send him off on his mission. Sometimes, I forget this movie existed, though quite a few keen observers of cinema rave about Ridley Scott’s director’s cut.
The Dark Knight Rises
Neeson appeared in Batman Begins, seemingly for a minor role as Batman’s mentor Ducard. Of course, that ended up being a giant swerve. Neeson was resurrected and revealed to be one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest nemeses, Ra’s Al Ghul. It was a clever inversion of the rut Neeson had found himself in by the mid-2000s, turning the tragic father figure into a devious villain.
What did end up being a minor role was his cameo in the trilogy-capping The Dark Knight Rises, where he appears to Bruce Wayne while held in captivity in a cave far from Gotham City. While not a wholly successful movie, The Dark Knight Rises did effectively tie up themes from the first film thanks to Neeson’s presence.
Clash of the Titans
The Dark Knight Trilogy did an excellent job of poking fun at Neeson’s typecasting, but he was right back at it in Clash of the Titans, once again playing the grim father of a handsome young actor with a charisma deficit. Sam Worthington, who you might remember as the blue fellow from Avatar, gets the unenviable task of acting opposite Liam Neeson. The movie is terrible and utterly forgettable, but somehow, it got a sequel that Neeson collected a handsome check for.
The massive success of the Taken series gave Liam Neeson a whole new set of roles to play, which it seems he has finally exhausted in the same way he ran through dead dad roles. The expiration date on neo-Charles Bronson types appears to be creeping up on Neeson, though I am a full apologist for The Commuter. At this point, Neeson getting whacked in the first act of a movie is less an annoyance and more a welcome change of pace.