REVIEW: Taken [2008]

“Good luck”

Mr. Pierre Morel, you have picked an express train to latch on to—good for you. Something about Luc Besson just works every single time. I’m sad that his declaration of being finished with the director’s chair may be true, however, his scripts are mounting and churning out entertaining action flicks. If you can get the Transporter series to make money from its wit and smart action, you know you are doing something right. I’ve yet to see these two guys’ first collaboration, District B13, but as far as the sophomore effort goes, Taken, I have one more reason to finally seek it out. Released in Europe last year and finally making its way stateside at the end of January, the tale pits a retired US government “preventer” with the Albanian captors that stole his daughter in Paris. His job ruined his marriage, strained the relationship he had with his child, yet gave him the specific skill set to get it all back. All he has to do is kick some butt, kill numerous baddies without a glimpse of remorse, and call in a few favors, while burning some old bridges in the process. Liam Neeson shows the physicality that George Lucas must have seen when casting him as a Jedi warrior, but didn’t utilize. Well, Morel sure opened the floodgates and Neeson does not disappoint.

The European flair shows face right at the start with the film’s opening credits. Sure the star gets top billing, but who do you ask gets second and third? That’s right, the director and writers, then followed by the title. Someone understands the true creativity behind a feature film. Well, not just someone, a continent. Whereas we in the states only care about who we see—“doesn’t that new Brad Pitt film look awesome?” “Oh, I don’t know, I kind of wanted to check out the latest from Paul Thomas Anderson.” “Who?”—cinephiles abroad know the creators, the orchestrators, and the people for whom there’d be no words for Pitt to speak. It’s a shame that the name Luc Besson won’t fill the seats by itself here in America, because I’m sure if you mention a lot of his filmography to a film fan and ask what they all have in common, the answer would be, “all films I really enjoy”. And yet the person answering probably has no idea what the common factor is allowing them to be such.

Shot with a kinetic pace, not quite Tony Scott speed as my friend suggested, more Bourne Supremacy, but even a bit clearer than that, the action excites at every turn. Neeson is a man on a mission; a man with everything on the line to find and save his daughter before the estimated 96 hours are up and she is lost forever, sold on the black market to be used, abused, and most likely disposed. Friends, enemies, strangers, you name it; they are all potential targets to be shot at. Neeson’s Bryan Mills is the ultimate badass working from his heart—using his head, but only to survive, not to censor his actions so as to stay out of trouble. He gave it all up to rekindle a relationship with his seventeen year old, yet I’m sure never thought that the only way to do so would be to use all that training. The flip remark from Leland Orser, calling him Rambo, is more appropriate than you may think.

The supporting cast is definitely a necessity to keep the plot moving, but, in the end, it’s all about Neeson moving forward and bull-rushing his way through extras. Maggie Grace can sadly get very tired, but I don’t fault her as much as casting. She is a 26-year old playing 17, so her overly annoying, girlish tendencies are overblown because she is overcompensating for the age difference. Famke Janssen and Xander Berkeley, two favorite character actors of mine, are solid in small roles, while my favorite supporter is Olivier Rabourdin’s Jean-Claude. Playing a French Internal Government agent, an ex-associate of Neeson, he portrays the duality of wanting to help his friend while still keeping his job and financial influx intact. He knows that whatever is uncovered in the one-man vigilante escapade could potentially harm his paycheck by exposing illegal dealings with criminals on the part of the police force, so he is never completely open. And that guardedness leads to a fantastic dinner scene.

Taken is action-packed and a great showcase of Liam Neeson’s ability to break out of the mild-mannered Brit he sometimes gets relegated into playing. No one is safe from his wrath and no obstacle will get in his way; in fact, those obstructions actually help him hide and kill with even more accuracy and safety. Besson also keeps his streak going of highly entertaining scripts helping to launch the careers of Frenchmen—Louis Leterier going from Danny the Dog to Hollywood’s The Incredible Hulk anyone? If this, and the high praise for District B13, is any indication, the name Pierre Morel may soon be one on billboards stateside as well. As I said, he hitched his trailer to the right perpetually moving train.

Taken 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] In TAKEN, Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, an ex-government operative who has less than four days to find his kidnapped daughter – who has been taken on her first day of vacation in Paris. Photo credit: Stephanie Branchu
[2] Only moments away from being taken by a vicious band of kidnappers, Kim (Maggie Grace) makes an urgent phone call to her father. Photo credit: Stephanie Branchu


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