“Let’s be Careful out There…”

Obviously written just after Liam Neeson upset the Usual Suspects — and before the most boring, right-on Oscars in history — this appears in Chicago’s Irish American News for March, 2019.

It was the regular watch-your-backs utterance on most ‘Hill Street Blues’ episodes. 

There was Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, played by the great Michael Conrad, telling his men that they had better be careful out there.  And he was spot on.  Those cops were going out into a world where they might be shot at or stabbed. 

‘Let’s be careful out there.’ 

Too damned right.  Fast-forward a few decades and you also have to watch every word that you say or write, proving once again what a crazy old world we live in.  Because there are anonymous cowards out there, all puffed-up with their newfound power of a keyboard and who are perpetually on the look-out for something to be offended over.

As the actor Liam Neeson found out this past month.

You know what I’m on about by now:  Neeson was giving one of those boringly tepid puff-piece interviews that anyone actually interested in cinema dreads almost as much as I’m sure the actors dread themselves.

These days, I avoid them. If I like a movie, I just like it and that’s it.  Case in point:  I loved the latest remake of A Star is Born; and as a hardcore Kris Kristofferson fan I nearly gave it a miss, thinking that it couldn’t possibly be better than the version with himself and Streisand.  Hit that bell – *Wrong!*

It was great…but as I hear Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper gushing and whispering sweet nothings to each other in every bloody interview, I’m about at the point where if I never hear of it again it will be too soon.

Well, there was nothing boring about Neeson’s interview when he was pushing his new movie Cold Pursuit, was there?   

At first I thought I was hearing a wind-up.  I mean, hell, what were you thinking of, Liam?  Those headlines….

But of course, that’s it.  It’s only the headlines that most Social Justice Warriors read before going off on a complete raging queen of a hissy-fit. [Come to think of it, am I even allowed to write that?  Ah, well, who cares?]

Neeson was talking about a sense of anger that he had forty years ago.  Seriously, forty years ago.  Give me strength.

Forty years ago I was twenty years old and doing some really daft and stupid things that I STILL regret and would condemn myself for.  But you have to cut yourself slack at some stage.  You have to get over it.  You grow up and regret and LEARN from it. You are no longer that person.

Neeson grew up in Northern Ireland at a time and in a place where he would have been carrying around a lot of baggage and misguided rage.

But for heaven’s sake, would you look at the interview in its entirety?  He put air quotes around the use of ‘black bastards’ and was already telling the story AGAINST himself — both of which points none of the mainstream media seemed to want to tell you. 

They’re happy, you see, if you just read the header and then go off to get your pitchforks and torches flaming, ready to chase the Monster of the Week around the village and up to the old burning mill.  It’s all good clickbait.

Neeson is very far from being a monster.  I’ve met him on three occasions over the years and in as much as you can judge anyone from meeting them for a few minutes at a time he seems to me to be one of the nicer guys in his industry.  Certainly, if you ask him a question he will pause and give it a bit of thought before he answers you. You don’t get that with everyone of his stature.  You just don’t.  And in this case perhaps it worked against him.

But should he have told that anecdote at all?  

Well, opinions differ.  But I’m glad that he did.  Even though it probably means that in future the PR people will be at the elbow of these actors more than ever, just to make sure that nothing goes off-script.  And that’s just…boring.

One thing that you can say about Neeson on this merry-go-around is that he wasn’t boring.

Yet what does it say about social media, this outpouring of hate that followed? 

“I want to see Neeson cancelled”; “I hope that Neeson gets his ass cancelled over this…”.

What in God’s name is that about?  ‘Cancelled’ as a word used against a human being?  It’s like something out of Pol Pot or Happy Uncle Adolf territory.  Hell, it’s pure George Orwell!

And those who are using that vile term so loosely are the same ones who are ‘offended’ by Neeson’s words.  You want to see him cancelled?  Jeez, get a grip.  We’re living in an increasingly vanilla world as it is, afraid to say a damned thing in case someone becomes outraged.  Outraged, I tells ye!

Meanwhile, staying with films for this go-around…. The Favourite.  It was co-produced by the brilliant Irish company Element Pictures and I’m so delighted to see it getting as many award nominations as it has. 

Element is run by people who actually LIKE movies… and THERE is something that you can’t always say about producers.  Their stuff is challenging and is NOT for everyone’s taste.  Check out The Lobster or The Killing of a Sacred Deer with Colin Farrell and you’ll get what I’m on about.

The Favourite?  It is a period piece and a comedy and a drama and NOT for everyone; but it IS pure cinema and uncompromising.  So that’s a nice change.

And also check out, whilst you’re at it, the work on that film of the Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan.  His work stands up there with the cinematography in Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 Barry Lyndon, much of which was shot in County Wicklow.  And I can’t think of a higher compliment than comparing Robbie Ryan’s work to that masterpiece.

Finally, and talking of Kubrick, I was reminded today of the incredibly moving death of HAL, the artificial intelligence at the heart of 2001:  A Space Odyssey, when I read that the little robot rover ‘Opportunity’ (nicknamed ‘Oppy’) has gone into that good night, millions of miles away on the harsh Martian landscape.

Oppy was originally supposed to last only 90 days, but instead has been transmitting his information for 15 years. 

His last transmission was:  ‘My battery is low and it’s getting dark’.

So it is for all of us; and it probably says far too much about me that I was more touched by that than the deaths of some of the more appalling people I have known.

It’s getting dark, in so many ways. 

And let’s be careful out there.  It’s a strange old world and getting stranger by the minute.