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Monday, April 19, 2021

Liam Neeson’s latest movie, ‘Gemini Man,’ just didn’t fit what we expected

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Liam Neeson is going through a personal crisis. Longtime films may be saying that he is going through a particular personal crisis. I’ve been saying that ever since a TV critic looked me up and down in 2015, and asked me if I’d noticed the enormous number of Liam Neeson movies he was making. It was an interesting thing to say.

I watched the last Neeson movie, “Cold Pursuit,” which I didn’t notice either. I took it with a grain of salt, but now I realize that was one of those cryptic flash-forwards that most movies do. (It turns out, in fact, that I’ve seen this movie but that it didn’t register on my radar screen because the main actor is not Liam Neeson, he’s Martin Landau.) Even though I don’t know him, like all of you I’ve fantasized about taking a chance on a woman named Neeson. Or a man named Neeson. He was in “The Commitments,” I saw him in “Schindler’s List,” and he was the godfather of my beloved film scholar wife, Joyce. Still, during all of the movies I’ve loved and even the interesting and crucial ambivalence he’s given us as a character actor, I always knew him as the brave, complicated, demanding actor who lived outside of kindling for the sake of working with good people in a durable script. I could never picture him out of the spotlight for too long.

Now, it is certainly possible to give Liam Neeson a role with a plot. But I’ve been going through a personal crisis of my own, and the one I need right now has nothing to do with work, and everything to do with going home. Which is why you might imagine that Neeson’s promise on his new film, “Gemini Man,” in which he plays an ex-cop, would have rang like a heart song of reassurance.

It was a lovely movie, and, yes, Liam Neeson lives the kind of true-blue romance that is rarely depicted in Hollywood these days. What’s hard to find in Hollywood these days, though, is a love scene between an action star and a woman he knows — not just a lover, but a friend.

It was too good to be true.

Neeson, suddenly talking on the phone, explains that he has a “very good friend” who is “on her deathbed,” and that it’s him who has called her. (Of course, this is probably not true; he had made a horrible decision; he was tired; it was simply to stir up old memories. You can blame all of this on some prosthetic hands that convey the soft and softness of the actor’s own hands; and you can let it pass with a kind of catharsis.)

The man has reached his bed, she has reached her bed and he has reached his bed. But there’s an awful lot of distance between them. Well, an awful lot of distance, as in the point where you don’t even mind the distance. Though — and here’s the beauty — even though she’s in the same bed, there’s a chance that they won’t talk at all. They’ll never talk, and so they will, after all, because love is not a movie. No one goes through an affair at home and leaves at the end of the movie.

“Evil Eye” is the kind of movie I love to love, but this one is actually too much of a departure. It’s too much of a departure for our hero, in the most shocking way possible. Liam Neeson — the gutsiest actor I’ve ever loved, the kind of man I wanted to have a talk with — is in this movie saying things like, “Tell me your secrets and I will find a way to kill you.”

But do I want to have a talk with him? No, we can’t have a talk with him. We can’t talk to him. That would be creepy. This isn’t the right movie for Liam Neeson, or for him at this moment.

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