When it was announced a year or two ago that Steven Spielberg would be making a movie about Abraham Lincoln, excitement crackled through the air with the indication that Liam Neeson would assaying the role of the Great Emancipator. Without even getting into the whole height issue, this news was greeted by yours truly as nearly perfect casting. After all, nobody has freed more slaves more famously in more high profile flicks in recent decades than Liam Neeson.
Liam Neeson truly is contemporary cinema’s Great Emancipator. Although Oskar Schindler did not technically offer emancipation to any Jewish prisoners, he kept several thousand of them alive long enough for them to be freed by the Soviets who first appeared on the scene. Oskar Schindler was Liam Neeson’s entry point into a series of films in which he has been instrumental in offering abolition to either literal or figurative slaves.
Following Schindler’s List, Neeson’s next high profile role was another true historical revolutionary: Rob Roy. What Mel “He’s No Oskar Schindler” Gibson could only try to do in Braveheart, Neeson accomplished as Rob Roy, a Robin Hood figure trying his darndest to carve out a little bit of Scottish freedom in the face of evil in the form of the always amazing Tim Roth. Okay, maybe Archie Cunningham was no Amon Goeth, but performance for performance you have to wonder why it is the Ralph Fiennes is still a certified movie star while Roth has been sent to the Gulag known as American dramatic television. It ain’t right!
Almost immediately after taking off his kilt, contemporary cinema’s Great Emancipator stepped into the second role he was born to play: Michael Collins. Collins spent most of his life trying to save the Irish from being assimilated completely into the British culture. If you don’t think that means that Michael Collins deserves to be another of Liam Neeson’s abolitionists, then you’ve clearly never read Brian Friel’s masterpiece of theatrical drama titled Translations.
Three years after traveling back in time to help try to free the Irish from the British concept of good food and comedy via dressing in drag, contemporary cinema’s Great Emancipator landed on the planet of Tatooine. True, my favorite Star Wars character Qui-Gon Jinn only succeeded in emancipating one little boy slave (which was maybe not the best idea Qui-Gon ever had), but you know what they say about one life being saved from slavery.
Something. Can’t remember.
Unfortunately, Liam Neeson wasn’t able to save Martin Scorsese from the slavery of thinking that Leonardo DiCaprio is the reincarnation of 1970s-era Robert DeNiro, but he was the only other part of Gangs of New York besides Daniel Day-Lewis to come out of that disgrace not stinking up the joint.
Liam Neeson appeared in a movie titled Kingdom of Heaven which was about the Crusades. I haven’t seen it and so can’t tell you whether he was trying to free any slaves, but it would be hard anyway. Black was white, up was down and the Christian Crusaders saw themselves as the heroes in that whole nasty business that in all honesty produced very few heroes on either side. Let’s leave this nasty business and head to Narnia. Try as he might Liam Neeson could not save the slaves of the White Witch by himself; he needed a gaggle of big-lipped British children. But the Lion is just as instrumental as the wardrobe in finally freeing Narnians from the death grip of slavish devotion to their androgynous queen so let’s allow that to date Liam Neeson has freed more slaves than any movie star since Charlton Heston.
Truly there is no present actor more well equipped to play Abraham Lincoln if Spielberg ever gets around to making his Lincoln flick.