In hindsight, it’s remarkable how long a shadow is out of stock cast. It’s been 14 years since director Pierre Morel redefined Liam Neeson’s place in cinema with his 2008 film, which portrayed the dramatic actor as an ex-CIA agent and a fighting force against type. Since then, too many action movies starring Neeson have followed the steps of a familiar dance. His peaceful home life is shattered when something is taken from him: his daughter is kidnapped (out of stock) and his ex-wife (2 taken), who is then murdered in it out of stock 3. Or his son will be murdered (cold pursuit), he loses his job (The commuter), or his family moves on without him (unknown). In each case, a long-buried history of clinically effective violence is brought to light, and for about two hours, Neeson feels sorry for the criminal element for ever thinking it would be easy to tease a man in his 60s. Storage is the latest of these films, and at first glance it seems capable of subverting the formula. Then it slowly turns into tired mimicry.
Storage begins with a slight reversal of Neeson’s action formula: This time, he’s one of the bad guys, so to speak. Neeson plays Alex Lewis, a world-class assassin who takes jobs from some of the world’s worst people. When asked to do what you never ask an action hero to do – kill a child – Neeson turns on his employers. When he becomes a vigilante determined to make them pay, he finds himself being hunted by both sides, with criminals and law enforcement closing in on him along the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. His main pursuer: FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce), who is targeting the same guys as Alex.
StorageThe big slip is that Alex is in a race against time. His health is declining and he suffers from memory loss, a harbinger of impending severe cognitive decline. That means he’s not just out to punish a crime syndicate for crossing a line; He seeks to symbolically atone for a life of ill-gotten gains while still able to take meaningful action.
On its own, Storage is a tepid thriller, competently made. Journeyman director Martin Campbell has consistently delivered gripping action sequences in films ranging from the extraordinary (the 2006 James Bond reboot Royal Casino) to surprising (Jackie Chans 2017 out of stock reef The foreigner) to oblivion (the Maggie Q vehicle of 2021 The protected one). As for the actual plot, Storage is clearly an inferior work by Campbell, who this time seems more interested in ineffective melodrama than physical conflict. The promise of any Liam Neeson action film is that Liam Neeson commits terrifying acts of brutality, but Storage follows Alex around as he threatens and only occasionally commits violence against many people.
Neeson reads as if he were working with the same desperate competence he was originally perfected at out of stock. Still in Storage, the thrill is gone – its intensity is no longer surprising, and as dedicated as Neeson is to staying onscreen and present during most of his character’s stunts, his limitations seem clearer than usual given Campbell’s clear shot blocking and clean cuts , they tie the film’s action scenes together so neatly. The film probably suffers from the existence of these two men to good at their jobs, so that one’s commitment makes the other’s shortcomings abundantly clear.
More engaging is Guy Pearce’s weary agent Serra, who sometimes acts as the de facto protagonist when Storage‘s script calls for Alex to disappear for a while. Serra’s investigation into Alex’s criminal employers is the only place where Storage makes anything approaching a convincing statement, even if it’s a hackneyed statement, about the institution of law enforcement and the way it’s being used to enforce the status quo rather than seek justice.
StorageUltimately, what’s most intriguing lies outside of the film itself, when read as a meta-commentary on Neeson’s action oeuvre. As Alex, Neeson portrays a man who knows he can no longer be the kind of person Neeson has played in so many films. The film plays better — but only marginally — when viewers factor in the comments Neeson made about being in early 2021 ready to retire from this type of film after just a few more (probably Storage and be upcoming thriller retribution).
In many of these films, Neeson was an unlikely avatar for upper-class white male fury. The appeal of his late career as an action star is a direct result of the dissonance between his well-mannered demeanor and the violence these characters commit. His sonorous voice — which has led to a long voice acting career and frequent casting into mentor-type roles — doesn’t belie the brutality these characters all eventually give way to. Under this reading, Neeson’s action films are about the order that whiteness and wealth have imposed on the world, the male entitlement to that order, and the violence that lurks beneath, directed at anyone who tries to disrupt it. It started with a movie called out of stock
It’s weird because these movies are never about stealing possessions – they’re about losing other people and losing status. The lives of his many characters’ loved ones are at stake, as is often the sense of ownership and control these men felt over their lives. They all have a sense of ownership that extends to their family members, their jobs, and their right to cut out the law enforcement middleman and kill people.
Storage is not Liam Neeson’s last action film, nor will it be the one that will define it. But it’s worth considering as his tenure of mannered cinematic revenge is slowly coming to an end. In this case, it’s about a character suddenly trying to atone for the man he was just before his own story evaporates from his mind. It’s not very convincing – although Alex Lewis admits he was a villain, Storage is still built around the thrill of seeing this villain unleashed. There’s little to suggest Alex Lewis is that different from Bryan in the Taken films or any of Neeson’s other violent avatars. This era of cinema is worth remembering and everything it says about specifically male fantasies and male anger. But it’s not necessarily worth remembering Storage self.
Storage opens in cinemas on April 29th.