10 years ago this week, Liam Neeson's best performance arrived in cinemas 3 months ago

10 years ago this week, Liam Neeson's best performance arrived in cinemas

Neeson only got the role when one of his best friends in Hollywood dropped out of the project.

Maybe it is because of Taken (and every Taken-alike movie he's done since then), but it is possible to overlook just how great an actor Liam Neeson actually is.

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Yes, obviously, we know he's been exceptional in the likes of Schindler's List, Michael Collins and Kinsey, but he was doing dark, complicated superheroes (Darkman) before it was cool, he was a cornerstone of one of the most-loved rom-coms of all time (Love Actually), he was the equal parts calming and authoritative voice of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia!

The man can do it all.

And even since his late-in-the-day action makeover brought on by Taken in 2008 (but more likely kicked off by his appearance in Batman Begins three years earlier), the reason he works so well in those movies is because he is both believable as an everyman, while imbued with a feeling that he can absolutely handle any situation he finds himself in.

Perhaps the best combination of these two sides to the Neeson coin - the awards-worthy performances mixed with the action man gravitas - was his role in The Grey, which arrived in cinemas a decade ago this week.

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And, initially, the role wasn't even meant for him, but one of his good Hollywood friends.

Directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan (who Neeson had recently worked with on The A-Team), it tells the story of a group of oil workers in Alaska who manage to survive a truly nerve-wracking plane crash, only to face a new nightmare...

Released in cinemas on 27 January 2012, The Grey was a moderate box office success ($81 million from a $25 million budget), with a decent critical response (79% on Rotten Tomatoes). Perhaps the reason why the reaction was more muted than some of Neeson's other action outings was down to the fact that The Grey was closer in tone to a survival horror than an action thriller.

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Decked out with an impressively macho supporting cast, including Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), James Badge Dale (The Departed), Dallas Roberts (The Good Wife) and Dermot Mulroney (The Purge), the crash survivors were forced to endure not only the freezing landscape, but a pack of grey wolves.

The original idea was to have a much younger actor in the lead role, with Bradley Cooper (Neeson's co-star in The A-Team) originally cast. However, with Neeson as the replacement, the movie's tone of a man facing his own demise - all while constantly haunted by the memories of a deceased partner - feels like a much better fit.

Indeed, for all of the scenes involving plane crashes, wolf fights, giant tree jumps and rushing rivers, one of the scenes that hits home the hardest is towards the movie's climax, as Neeson's character writes a letter to his wife, Carnahan urged Neeson to channel his real life grief over the passing of his wife Natasha Richardson, who had died less than two years earlier.

A decade on, The Grey is probably shorthanded as "the movie where Liam Neeson fist fights some wolves". And yes, that does happen (sort of, stick around for the post-credits scene), but more than anything else, this is Neeson delivering a performance that suited him better than potentially any other in his career before or since.

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The Grey is available to rent on Rakuten TV and Apple TV right now.

Clip via MovieClips & IGN