Liam Neeson Phones It In: Four Action Movies, 42 Minutes of Callsby
The crime thriller that opened over the weekend is a fairly typical entry in Liam Neeson’s recent run of righteous vengeance movies. In A Walk Among the Tombstones, the actor plays a stoic but vulnerable ex-cop in pursuit of a pair of kidnappers. The action star broods, violently assaults bad guys, and broods some more. And he spends a lot of time on the phone.
For about 8 1/2 minutes of Tombstones—or 7 percent of the movie—Neeson’s character is on the phone. He barks orders, cuts deals, and demands proof that a little girl is still alive. At one point he even calls directory assistance. He is on 10 separate calls.
Even more remarkable is that Tombstone is a period piece, set mainly in the pre-smartphone year of 1999. Neeson’s character, perhaps annoyed by all the calls, expresses disdain for cellphones; his protégé in the film remarks that he uses a lot of pay phones.
Don’t let the bluster fool you. Phones have become a part of the Liam Neeson experience. Since Taken, the 2008 action movie in which Neeson delivers his beloved “particular-set-of-skills” speech into a phone, it has become commonplace to find the actor holding a handset or a receiver. In Taken and its sequel, Neeson’s character takes part in 17 different phone calls. The longest call in each film occurs during the eponymous taking—kidnappers make off with a loved one while Neeson’s character or his daughter listens in. Neeson’s hero spends 10 percent of both films on a phone. Taken 3 is due out in January, and you can bet that whoever is taken will spend some quality time on the phone with someone in particular.
So Neeson as an action hero knows how to wield a late-90s cellphone, overhear an abduction, and rack up body counts. Put the action on an airplane, however, and surely his phone-talking ways will be curbed. Not in the 2014 film Non-Stop, in which our star is an air marshall working high above the Atlantic.
Once the plane takes off, the story rapidly shifts to Neeson’s phone. A hijacker texts him and explains that he will kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes unless his demands are met. One of every seven seconds of this movie—more than 14 minutes in all—puts Neeson on the phone, including the transmission of 16 text messages and eight calls.
Phones are a part of life now; it would be silly for directors to ignore them in storytelling. And of course, Hollywood for decades has found plenty of ways to turn our communication technology into clever plot devices. Still, even Neeson’s most ardent action fans probably don’t want to watch him talk on the phone this much. It just takes time away from the brooding and assaulting.