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After.Life - Movie - Liam Neeson, Christina Ricci - Film Review

 

LIAM NEESON'S RETURN TO FORM

 

picture - After.LifeMovie Review

by Kevin Bowen

published April 11, 2010   

 

After.Life

rated R

now playing in select theaters   

 

Is it time to ponder the career of Liam Neeson?

 

Perhaps yes, as he enters the theaters for the second time in two weeks.  Last week, he posed through the role of Zeus in Clash of the Titans. This week it’s the psychological thriller After.Life.

 

There was a little streak between Schindler’s List and the biopic Michael Collins where Neeson seemed destined for great things. Now, his screen presence is that of a late, bloated Orson Welles or a Charlton Heston hemmed in by defining roles. When he enters the screen, sometimes the joke seems like it’s on him. It still feels like slumming for his Schindler’s co-star Ralph Fiennes to take a role in Titans. Yet nowadays it feels like Neeson’s home.

 

Still, a smart director can still use his sunless presence to strong effect, as the Dutch debutant Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo does in this unsettling psychological thriller. The result is the first effective Neeson performance that I’ve seen in quite some time. Not that that is saying nearly as much as it once did.

 

Neeson plays a solemn mortician who might have a special gift. Is he a psychically endowed loner kindly helping the recently dead to the afterlife? Or is he a delusional serial killer? A mostly naked Christina Ricci is the prospective corpse who is about to find out. The whole thing plays like a good, long Twilight Zone episode, always on the precipice between irony and dread. 

 

After.Life is a creepy little number that keeps threatening to ruin itself but never quite does. It solves its own mystery and then reverses course. You will likely leave the theater discussing with a friend exactly what was going on. In this it trusts its audience enough to forego the typical Hollywood rule of complete explanation.  I also like the look of the film and the wide use of the frame. This is one of the little secrets of horror films today – they’re among the most willing to take visual chances.

 

It is left to Neeson to bring the thing home. He has the soft eyes and hard hands of Robert Mitchum, placed in the cold mouth of Gary Cooper. It suggests something kind or something sinister, and we’re never sure which. In a role of a man who might talk to souls, Neeson gives a fairly spirited performance as spiritless man.

 

kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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