Gaming | Film | TV
Gaming | Film | TV

The plight of the middle-aged action star

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Hollywood actors aren’t immune to midlife crises, but these stars have the means to carry out their He-Man fantasies.

Andropause, or ‘male menopause’, is an epidemic sweeping the western male 45+ age bracket, so serious that it has its own charity: The Society for the study of Androgen Deficiency. Or, simply, Andropause Society. They even have their own website. Symptoms of andropause include: anger and social withdrawal, lack of libido, back and headaches, anxiety and hot flushes. The onset of andropause is often linked to the common phenomenon of the midlife crisis. Men reach middle age and are plagued with the realisation of their own mortality.

Film stars are not immune to the midlife crisis. Except they have more resources at their disposal to play out their ageing fears

Suddenly, the arrogance of youth, with its intoxicating, “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you!” promise is replaced with mortgages, the kids’ university fees and golf. The impending doom of old age sets many men off on an epic ‘life upgrade’, trading in their station wagon for a sports car and their wives for the younger, secretary model. Cliches aside, a midlife crisis often covers a deeper disappointment and resentment, the nagging feeling that your life didn’t quite turn out the way you’d hoped.

Established film stars, such as Sean Penn and Liam Neeson, are not immune to this fate. Success, fame and wealth is no inoculation in the face of the dreaded midlife crisis. Except these actors have more resources at their disposal to play out their ageing fears and hot flushes. Who needs a new sports car when you already have five? Rather helm a Hollywood action/thriller blockbuster where you can prove you’ve still got ‘it’ by punching multiple baddies in the face. Welcome to The Middle-Aged Action Heroes Club, where mortality is explored literally, as the stars dodge bullets and wield semi-automatic rifles over their cleverly disguised potbellies.

the gunman sean penn

Sean Penn’s forthcoming The Gunman has put The Middle-Aged Action Heroes Club firmly in the critical spotlight. The Gunman follows Penn’s Martin Terrier, a former special forces soldier suffering from PTSD, who must embark on an epic cross-Europe journey to clear his name with his previous employer in order to settle down with his long-lost love, played by Jasmine Trinca. Sounds like The Bourne Identity for the, um, “older-man”. On set photographs of Penn, looking wizen, crinkly and hard-arsed, complete with camo backpack and helicopter, were released late last year.

With The Gunman, Sean Penn evidently needed to cock a few AKs and jump out of a helicopter to remind himself he’s still The Man

There’s Penn, brow furrowed, looking intense and no-nonsense from behind a pair of dark sunglasses. Trinca, a tender 20 years Penn’s junior, is a typical midlife crisis ‘younger model’. It is easy to draw a parallel with Penn’s personal life: after 14 years of marriage and two children with the ever-enigmatic Robin Wright, the couple finally called it quits in 2010. Cut to February this year, and Penn is now with another (15 years his junior) enigmatic blonde, Charlize Theron. But an established career, two Oscars and statuesque Charlize by his side is not enough for Penn. Nope, he needs to cock a few AKs and jump out of a helicopter whilst buildings explode in the background to remind himself he’s still The Man.

It’s Liam Neeson, however, who essentially founded The Middle-Aged Action Heroes Club with Pierre Morel’s 2008 smash-hit, Taken. Neeson played former CIA operative Bryan Mills and gruffly punched his way to rescuing his 17-going-on-Maxim-cover-girl daughter from sex trafficking. The plot was laughably straightforward: daughter prances off to France. Is promptly kidnapped. Neeson goes on epic killing spree. Neeson saves daughter. And the entire film can be summed up by his epic speech. Bish, bash, bosh.

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stolen nicolas cage

Despite the thin story and cringeworthy dialogue, audiences lapped up Neeson’s charismatic kick-arsery. Yet underneath the actor’s He-Man antics may lie a deeper pain: A year after Taken’s success, Neeson’s wife, Natasha Richardson, passed away after an epidural hematoma sustained from a skiing accident. In an interview with Anderson Cooper on CBS’s 60 Minutes recently, Neeson admitted to still believing that his wife was going to walk through the front door of their New York apartment. Three years later, and in Taken 2 Neeson is saving his wife from a revenge-crazed kidnapper in Istanbul. On-screen, Neeson can save his daughter, rescue his wife, keep his family safe and intact. In reality, he doesn’t have such control.

These actors are literally acting out older-man fantasies or trying to distract themselves from the not-so-pleasant realities of life

With Taken 3 now being filmed in LA, Neeson has effectively secured his immortal, older-man action hero status. It’s difficult to judge whether all members of The Middle-Aged Action Heroes Club are suffering from severe andropause or a mild case of midlife crisis (we need also take into account Nic Cage, whose 2012 belly-flop, Stolen, was simply a shoddy imitation of Neeson’s Taken franchise). Whether they’re literally acting out older-man fantasies or trying to distract themselves from the not-so-pleasant realities of life, The Middle-Aged Action Heroes Club proves that even established actors suffer from occasional unglamorous bouts of hot flushes.

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Featured image: 20th Century Fox

Inset images: Open Road Films; Millenium Films


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