Forget Liam Neeson and "Taken 7," or whatever carbon-copied version they're on now. Forget Sean Penn in the copycat thriller "The Gunman", which lands in theaters this weekend. You want Hollywood's most intriguing gray-templed action star? Look no further than Patricia Clarkson.

The veteran New Orleans actor is the star of writer-director Ruba Nadda's latest film, "October Gale," and together they show the boys that there's more than one way to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Theirs, in other words, isn't some brain-dead, threadbare testosterone fest. Rather, Clarkson and Nadda blend action and suspense with emotion and heart, in what ends up being a tense and tightly spun tale that sticks to the ribs more than the standard action outing.

The last time Clarkson and Nadda teamed up, it was for 2010's Cairo Time, a beautifully shot romantic drama built more on emotional atmosphere than kinetic energy. At its outset, "October Gale" looks to be much the same.

Clarkson's character, we quickly learn -- and seamlessly, thanks to Nadda's tightly scripted story -- is a recently widowed woman named Helen, who until recently had been married for 34 years to the same man. Still coming to grips with her sudden, unexpected loss and adjusting to her new life, she sets out for a personal retreat at the quaintly appointed lake house where she and her husband had cozied up near Canada's picturesque Georgian Bay.

There, she reflects. She longs. She ponders the lonely path forward. Along the way, she notches a handful of personal victories, as she must -- for the first time -- get the cottage up and running without her husband.

It's a film that benefits greatly from Clarkson's well-seasoned chops, given that the first act of "October Gale" -- while illuminating with regard to her character -- boasts precious little dialog. Thankfully, Clarkson knows well how to act without words. It's a credit to her talent, and to Nadda's smart, efficient staging, that we learn everything we need to know about Helen as quickly and succinctly as we do.

Then, just when you think Nadda's film is shaping up to be an emotional journey more than anything else, she tightens the strings about 20 minutes in, and "October Gale" becomes something else entirely.

This is one of those films in which the less you know about it the more you'll enjoy it, so I'll refrain from any spoilers. But it's safe to say that what we end up with -- following the arrival of a mysterious stranger, a howler of a storm and characters with suspicious motives -- is a tidy dose of suspense, with just a hint of Hitchcock in its DNA.

We also learn there's more to Clarkson's Helen than we thought. She does, too.

But don't expect a revelation that she's some highly trained CIA operative, as has become standard in the Neeson-verse. She's not. Rather, she's a physician -- and a good one, too. But her hands are every bit as soft as her heart.

Doctors, however, are trained to handle crisis, and when it comes to that, she has what it takes to do what it takes. Or at least, she had better.

Nadda's film can be fairly criticized for sticking relatively closely to formula when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the plot. As a result, it's not without its predictabilities. Likewise, Helen's motivations -- and judgment -- are questionable at times.

But any flaws are offset by the level of emotion at play in "October Gale," which is so often missing from other films in the genre.

It's also nice to see Clarkson get a chance, however briefly, to step outside of the box in which Hollywood so often tries to sentence actresses of her age.

Granted, her particular set of skills isn't likely to supplant Neeson's or Penn's at the multiplex anytime soon. Hollywood should take note anyway that she's got yet another arrow in her quiver.