San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Mick LaSalle: Joe Biden is our first Liam Neeson president.
There have been action stars for years, but they used to have a shelf life. The cutoff was different for each star, but it was usually around 50 years old. Beyond that, it just looked weird, like Dad on a rampage.
It wasn’t until 2008, with “Taken,” that the cultural and cinematic possibilities of Dad on a rampage were fully realized. That pioneering movie took a standard action plot but grafted to it a ragstoriches tale of an older, underestimated guy — a domesticated, mellow dad — achieving stature by going absolutely ballistic.
This created a formula that was irresistible in two ways: First, there was the satisfaction of watching an underdog not only win, but annihilate his opponents. And two, there was something gloriously absurd in the spectacle of Dad getting really, really angry. Thus, watching such scenes, part of you is laughing, even while all of you is staying very much engrossed in the action.
This formula has proved so enduring that Liam Neeson has repeated it again and again over the past 12 years. We see the same formula at work in the Jackie Chan film “The Foreigner,” about an emotionally devastated man investigating the death of his daughter. He’s a little guy. He’s older. He has a foreign accent. Nobody sees him as a threat, until he flips out and starts throwing guys out the window. And just last month, we saw the formula repeated yet again, with another boring dad, played by Bob Odenkirk, taking on the entire Russian mob in “Nobody.”
Why bring this up? Well, movies have a way of tapping and influencing the current mood, and when you have a recurring myth — one that arrives within a contained period of time and results in a series of successful movies — it often means that it’s expressing a hidden desire.
Or to put it another way, it looks like Joe Biden is our first Liam Neeson president.
During the presidential election season, all we heard from Biden’s opponents were: He’s old. He has old ideas. He can’t win the nomination. Trump is going to destroy him in the debate. He’s demented. Mitch McConnell is going to walk all over him. He won’t be able to get anything done. He’ll fall apart at his first news conference. And what happens each time? Very quietly, without making a fuss, boring ol’ Dad uses his particular set of skills — skills he acquired over a very long career — and gets everything he wants.
It’s always too late that we recognize the connections between culture and politics. For example, in 2014 and 2015 there were lots of films in which monsters destroyed cities and civil society. Almost every week the Golden Gate Bridge was getting smashed, to the point that I actually asked, “What does this mean?” — because I knew it meant something.
And then one day, in 2015, I saw Godzilla in a red tie riding down a golden escalator in Trump Tower, and within a few months it all became clear. For a large segment of the population, these fantasies of destruction weren’t a means of relieving terror, they were wish fulfillments. People were angry and they wanted someone big and mean to come and trash everything, maybe because they thought they’d be better off, or maybe because they just didn’t like cities. In any case, Godzilla reigned for four years, and some people even want him back in the Oval Office.
In the meantime, there’s something nice about the way Neeson, Chan, Odenkirk and all these other dads keep winning. They don’t rub their victories in their opponent’s face, because they know that there’s no point in humiliating the other side. Dad doesn’t want to win once and get people angry. He wants to keep winning.