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Whiskers of Wisdom: An Open Letter to Liam Neeson

24 June 2005 by Chad No Comment

An Open Letter to Liam Neeson
By Chad J. Shonk

Dear Mr. Neeson,

In my adventures in Hollywood over the past few years, I have not been fortunate enough to make your acquaintance. I am going to be rather presumptuous from now to the end of this letter and call you Liam. You see, Liam, I am a fan. I have been for a long time. Your name alone is enough to get my lazy ass to the theater. I am, most humbly, a Liam Neeson fan.

That being said, I am writing this to tell you what to do with your life.

I don’t know who reps you or what agency you are with, and I am sure they have made you a very rich man. But lately I feel that their vision of your career has been rather myopic. Which brings me to the thesis of this satirical correspondence:

Liam, it is time for you to retire from playing the “Bearded Mentor-Warrior Who Dies” role in your movies.

Don’t misunderstand me, Liam. You excel at this role. If I were casting something with swords and togas in it, and I needed a Bearded Mentor-Warrior Who Dies (or “BMWD”), your name would be the first in my mind. It’s just that, well, over the past half-decade, you have made multiple runs at this character, and now, in 2005, you have perfected it with Batman Begins.

Let us travel back to a long, long time ago.


In 1999, Liam, you played the Bearded Mentor-Warrior Who Dies to the Granddaddy of all Bearded Mentor-Warriors Who Die, Obi-Wan Kenobi, in Star Wars Episode I. As Qui-Gon Jinn, the most hard-headed and anti-authoritarian Jedi we’ve ever seen, you were a bright spot in the major disappointment of the 20th Century (other than the no flying cars or jet packs thing. Anyone else pissed about that too?). You looked good in your beard. Your flowing robes. You handled a lightsaber with ease. Your death at the blade of Darth Maul was a great moment in a film painfully devoid of great moments (See more in my upcoming essay on the collected Star Wars Saga: “The Circle is Now Complete: Ramblings of a Geek With Nothing More to Live For”)

In the Star Wars timeline, you are the first BMWD. Qui-gon guides Obi-wan in the ways of the Force. He was a great counter-point to his Padawan’s mainstream sensibilities. As different as these two Jedi were, young Obi-wan admired his master. So much so, in fact, that he himself grew up to be the greatest Bearded Mentor-Warrior Who Dies that ever lived (and then died).

But Star Wars was disappointing for you (and us). Sure, the money was good. But acting in front of green screens, spitting out wooden dialogue, and having conversations with a CG Ant Eater lookin’ Step-n-Fetchit, was kind of a let down. Not quite the BMWD experience you were looking for.


So you turned to the masters. In 2002, you had a small role in one of my favorite movies of that year, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. In Gangs, you played Priest Vallon, the Irish leader of the Dead Rabbits gang and father to Leo Dicaprio’s Amsterdam. You open the film, sharpening your blade, on your way to do combat with the terrifying Bill the Butcher.

You are given time to impart some wisdom on your young son, but soon the fighting begins. And, alas, you have a beard; you are a warrior, and a mentor. You know you must die. But you die so fast. I mean, in the first ten minutes fast.

That could not have been satisfying, either. Here you are with a BMWD role in a picture by Martin Scorsese, and with an arch-rival played by an actor the caliber of Daniel Day-Lewis, and you barely get any screen time. What does a furry man with gravitas have to do to get some respect around here?


In Love Actually, you mentored a love-stricken little boy and it was cute. But you were clean-shaven, didn’t kill anyone, didn’t die. So for purposes of this letter, it does not concern me (although your story was my favorite in the bunch). You also kicked ass in Bill Condon’s Kinsey. While you also a bit of a mentor in that one as well, three things were missing: a sword, a beard, and death. Plus, you were the lead, a position an actor of your talent deserves to hold more often.

In 2005, you have made two stabs at BMWD greatness. Neither one from directors I particularly care for…


It is known to my friends and colleagues that I am not a fan of Ridley Scott. He has made a few good films (Alien, Black Hawk Down) but so has Schumacher. I know others consider him a master, and that is a valid opinion, just not an opinion that takes into account G.I. Jane and Hannibal. However, I found myself enjoying Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, in which you play the crusader Godfrey. Then again, I hated Gladiator and liked Troy, so maybe I’m not the best judge of sandal epics. Although I’m sure we agree on Alexander.

But I digress.

In Kingdom, you played a warrior, a mentor, a man with facial hair, and you died. You were good in it. Despicable but likable. Hard but with some heart. You taught your son how to fight (without arrows, even. See: Bloom, Orlando, Elf, Troy, Typecasting for more details). You died a painful, fever ridden death. I liked the flick, and you in it.


Of the four directors who have recently given you BMWD roles, Christopher Nolan impresses me the least. Following was boring. Memento lost all value to me after the second viewing. Insomnia just sucked. When I heard it would fall to Nolan and Blade screenwriter David Goyer to revive Batman, I was skeptical. Then the stellar cast came together, each name bigger than the one before it: Bale. Watanabi. Murphy. Holmes. Freeman. Oldman. You. Michael fucking Caine as Alfred. Michael Gough was a good Alfred, but Oscar winners aren’t supposed to play butlers. Well, Tony Hopkins did. And Alec Guinness. Anyway. Pat Hingle was a crappy Gordon, but Oldman? Motherfucking Drexel? Beethoven? The cop whose name I can’t remember from Leon?


The Mad Hatter has escaped from Arkham.

Put everyone on the case.


Whaddaya mean, everyone?


(turning around)


It sounded like they were getting it right. No machine guns on the Batmobile. No penguins with missiles. No Robin or Batgirl. No Bat-skates. No Arnold. No Schumacher.

Could they finally get it right?


I fucking loved Batman Begins. It’s the Batman movie I always wanted. Wanted to see. Wanted to write. Wanted to exist. It’s not a prequel to the Burton/Satan films. It’s not Frank Miller’s “Year One.” It’s a whole new start for my favorite superhero. The Gotham of my dreams. The Scarecrow of my nightmares. And, after Jack and Michelle and Jim and Danny and Tommy Lee and the Governor and Uma, it’s actually about, well, Batman! Not the people trying to kill him.

Again I digress, but you, Nolan, Goyer, and the rest of the cast and crew of Batman Begins have made me one giddy geek.

Your Ducard in Batman is a great character. It’s a little light in facial hair department for my BMWD tastes, but that’s a nitpick. As the man who trains Bruce Wayne to fight, Ducard becomes vital to the Batman mythos. I enjoyed the quip about fighting not being “dancing.” (A little jab at Neo and his ilk?) You teach Wayne to become invisible, to conquer his fears, to become a legend. Obi-wan may be the mentor of mentors, but Batman is the Hero of Heroes, and you’re the guy who taught him all the shit he knows.


Now, Liam, it is time to stop. You’ve done it. You are the man who mastered the Bearded Mentor-Warrior Who Dies role (try he will, but Ian McKellan won’t catch up).

Eastwood doesn’t need to play any more cowboys. Ditto Cruise and hot-shots. Pacino and gangsters. Spader and perverts. Affleck and dudes who turn lesbians straight with a good deep dicking.

Time to hang up your whiskers of wisdom.

I doubt we will see Schindler’s Next List, or Kinsey 2: It Hurts When I Pee, or Rob Roy’s Revenge or Michael Collins 2: Vodka Collins, but you are a leading man. Stop pushing heroes onto their journeys and take the path yourself. You’ll thank me for it.

This has been a humble bit of advice from me to you.

Thank you for the time, Liam my friend.

And may the Force be with you.


Chad J Shonk

p.s.    Your wife is hot.

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