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Liam Neeson in 'The Grey'

Liam Neeson, with his newly in-demand career as an action hero, stars in The Grey, which opens this Friday (January 26).

In this stripped-down adventure thriller, Neeson must brave the elements in wintery Alaska and, worse, a pack of vengeful wolves, as he and a handful of other men struggle to survive after a plane crash. As they attempt to trudge through deep snow to safety, the men must elude the wolves, cross a gorge, build fires, whittle weapons, and confront their own fears.

The film re-teams Neeson, 59, with director-writer Joe Carnahan, with whom he worked in The A-Team (2010), a noisy, pointless exercise in big studio special effects pyrotechnics. Beside it, The Grey, a slightly better than average film, comes off as a humanistic drama of strength, purpose and subtlety.

While Neeson, who was born in Northern Ireland, has been a movie star for a quarter century, his best leading roles were often in serious dramas (Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, and Kinsey). In popcorn blockbusters, he tended to play supporting roles (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Batman Begins and The Chronicles of Narnia films, in which he provided Aslan’s voice).

All that changed four years ago when he was improbably reborn as an action hero in Taken, a routine thriller about a retired CIA agent who travels to Europe to rescue his kidnapped daughter. It was a role one would have expected a veteran bruiser like Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis to fill, not Neeson. But play it he did, with sinewy toughness and that inimitable husky but lilting voice. The movie surprised everyone by turning into a global hit, grossing $227 million worldwide and giving Neeson’s already thriving career a major boost.

He has followed up with films both big and dumb (The A-Team, Clash of the Titans) and small and smart (The Other Man and Chloe), even as he contended with the tragic death in 2009 of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, who sustained a fatal brain injury in a skiing fall.

Up next, he’s all action man. He reprises his role as Zeus, the king of gods, in Wrath of the Titans, a sequel opening March 30. In May, he will show up as an admiral in Battleship, a big-budget, special effects-driven adventure film based on the board game, and in July as a villain in The Dark Knight Rises, the latest, eagerly anticipated Batman film from British director Christopher Nolan. And Neeson is currently filming Taken 2, which is set to open next fall.

Just for fun, here’s a clip of Steve Coogan doing his passable imitation of Neeson’s tough guy in Taken:


What’s your favorite film with Liam Neeson?


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By Leah Rozen