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Taken (2008) Print E-mail
Saturday, 07 February 2009
ImageI don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
-Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson)

I love Luc Besson. Sure, not everything he touches turns to gold, but when it comes to action, he is one of the world’s leading lights. Granted, he hasn’t directed an action film since 1997’s The Fifth Element, but he’s had his hands in a few action pies since, mostly as a writer and producer. While some of the resulting pictures, such as The Transporter, were over hyped and underwhelming fare, hardly worthy of the filmmaker’s name, his latest pet project, Taken, is everything a good action film should be. It’s blunt, to the point, and brimming with adrenaline.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is an ex-Federal agent. He spent the formative years of his daughter’s life abroad, defusing dangerous situations, often with his bare hands. When his daughter (Maggie Grace) asks for his permission to go to Europe, he’s worried for her safety, but fearing pushing her further away, he reluctantly agrees. Almost as soon as she arrives in Paris, she’s abducted by Albanian white slavers. Luckily for her, she happens to be on the phone with her father as the abduction takes place. Without a second thought, Bryan shoots off to France, prepared to do whatever it takes to retrieve his daughter, regardless of the collateral damage.

Playing out like a condensed season of 24 (although considerably more pulse-pounding), Taken is everything you’d want in an action flick. Does it hold up to the deepest scrutiny? Does it work as well as a character study? Is it unassailable in every element? No, absolutely not. But it features Liam Neeson, tearing through France with a vengeance, rounding up a sizeable body count, and making enemies with each additional scene.

Neeson is the lynch pin of the piece. In fact, the supporting cast is generally either bland or annoying. Maggie Grace doesn’t pass for 17, nor is she particularly good as an actress of any age. Famke Janssen plays yet another variation of her perennial role as uptight bitch, and Xander Berkeley is completely ineffectual as Bryan’s rival for his daughter’s fatherly affection. But that’s not the point. The point is that Neeson is laser-focused in his role, filling his every move with unspeakable menace. When he tells the mysterious kidnappers that he will track them down and kill them, every last one, you believe every word. After several years of playing mentors, both benign (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) and malevolent (Batman Begins), Neeson is finally given the spotlight again, and proves that he never needed to leave it.

Director Pierre Morel, best known for bringing Parkour to the national stage with District B13, shoots the film like a Bourne caper on crack. The action is generally more comprehensible than the latter Bourne movies, especially the almost unwatchable quick-cutting of The Bourne Ultimatum, but he always keeps the stakes high and the blood flowing. Unless you’re watching the film in the U.S., that is. Fox, continually vying for the coveted “most obnoxious studio in history” title (enjoying your blood money from Watchmen yet, Mr Murdoch?), has cut out almost all the blood, headshots, and more extreme bits of gore from the film in order to achieve a PG-13 rating. Still, it’s to Morel’s credit that even with the most graphic elements removed, the movie is still thrilling.

Taken isn’t revolutionary. It doesn’t redefine the action genre or break down boundaries. But it is a rollicking good time at the movies, and these days, with junk like Paul Blart: Mall Cop taking number one at the box office, that’s quite refreshing. I would love to see a Hollywood production come out with even half the balls and bad-assery on display here. Taken isn’t a great movie, but it’s content to be a very good one, and sometimes that’s all we need to ask from our entertainment.

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