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The Non-Arthouse Badassery of Liam Neeson’s Taken

Written by: Joseph Randazzo, Special to CC2K

ImageI know what you're thinking about Taken:

Written by Luc Besson –  that guys’ name sounds European. Is he French?

Starring Liam Neeson –  wasn’t he Oskar Schindler a few years back?

Conclusion – Another pretentious arty French movie. Well, my friends…if that's what you think Taken is, then you are incorrect. 

My God, are you incorrect. The closest thing to The 400 Blows that come from this movie is the pounding that Neeson gives out to anyone who even remotely comes in his path.

Taken is a story about ..well several things; Bad parenting, kidnapping, human trafficking and revenge. Mainly the last thing. Actually, the revenge aspect of it takes up over half to three-fourths of this tight 93 minute movie.

Liam Neeson – who played a memorable turn in Batman Begins – basically reprises that role as the gruff yet likable Bryan Mills. He is a retired “Preventer” for the Government. Basically what that means is that he knows how to track people down and hurt them. Good skills to put on your resume. 

Some skills, however, are justifiably not on his resume, such as politeness, courtesy and aggression control. Do you know why they aren’t on there? Because he says lines like “I'll tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to!” While that may seem and bit over the top, you believe the man. And that is what’s important.

So Ra's al Ghul has a daughter named Kim, played ably by Maggie "Look out for that Smoke Monster" Grace of Lost fame. Kim and Bryan are not close, causing much unhappiness in his life. The movie even forces an interaction with his buddies to show how much he actually cares about her, going so far as to retire from being a super spy to be closer to her. 

Here is where the bad parenting comes in.  Kim’s Mom and Bryan’s ex-wife is coolly played by Famke Janssen (X-Men)  It was nice of her to take some time off from disturbing the hell out of me by playing transgender in Nip/Tuck for this role. She is your typical rich mother who spoils her kid rotten and forces the normally overprotective Mills to let the seventeen-year-old Kim take a trip to Europe with her vapid friend. 

Then things rapidly deteriorate, but that is so much better for the viewer. You see, up until this point the movie was kind of trudging along. You had the obligatory showcase of Mills skills, his longing for his relationship with his daughter, and you had the ex-spy friends come over and share war stories. They were laying a ground work down, but unfortunately they showed their hand and you kind of just felt like they were just building up to something rather then developing any real characters (besides Neeson)You sit there and wait for the action to start rather then be drawn in or caring about any of the other supporting characters.  Some of the dialogue seemed stilted and I heard some derisive laughs from the crowd. That soon stopped.

Kim gets kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. But before that happens, she manages to get a frantic call off to her father, who springs into action. The movie is then propelled into a story of detection, espionage and beatings.  Neeson is a no-nonsense hardcore badass and he is great.  Think John Wayne in the Searchers, without the racial issues.  He is fun to watch and the only laughs that come from the point of the kidnapping on are of the “I can’t believe he did that” fashion.

The story was written by Luc Besson (The Professional, La Femme Nikita, Fifth Element) and Robert Mark Kamen (Gladiator, Transporter). Pierre Morel directed as his sophomore film. His first movie District B13 is an underrated fast-paced action movie that I highly recommend.  It’s in subtitles, but you should be an adult and watch it anyway.

The film is gritty, but surprisingly bloodless and not gory. The atmosphere is a less stylistic Bourne Identity and the themes are very much like Man on Fire. (minus the bomb colonoscopy) The action is never over the top and it doesn’t feel like you are watching a prototypical shoot-em-up. The plot may sound like Commando, but this is a darker, smarter movie.

Bottom Line: Know what you are getting into. This film is not an art film or an Oscar contender (don’t even get me started). Once you get past the minor plot holes and forced buildup; this movie will pay off for you. If you like your men tough (but highly believable) and your romance non-existent, then this one is for you.