In a sea of action packed macho movies to hit the market in the late 2000s (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Expendables”) “Taken” was a surprising hit. It pitted Liam Neeson, known for varied performances (ranging from the über serious “Schindler’s List” to his fun appearance in “Love Actually”) as a man who probably won’t be up for any Father of the Year awards to his ex-family, but just might be able to save the day when it counts. The film has the charm of slow-paced foreign spy movies combined with the hard hitting excitement of the “Jason Bourne” series.
The film’s plot is simple yet effective. Bryan Mills (Neeson) is on the outs with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and her mother (Famke Janssen), and feels replaced by his ex-wife’s new husband, played, in his minimal appearance, subtly by Xander Berkley. However he gets his change at redemption when Kim is kidnapped with a friend while visiting Paris. We find out, quickly, that Mills is ex-CIA; his bag of skills and tricks is just what the situation calls for.
Cinematically, “Taken” is an effective thriller, and quickly launches us into Mills’ hunt. There’s no James Bond-esque ‘Q’ to fill his repertoire with technical goodies. No, Mills has enough of these all by himself, as we see him compile the items he will need for the hunt. We see how urgent the hunt is as Mills himself was on the phone with his daughter when she was kidnapped. His solemn words to her do nothing to calm her, but give him some audio feedback with which to track her assailants. “Listen carefully…now they’re going to take you,” he warns before promising to find her at all costs.
The spy-who-hasn’t-practiced-in-years motif is exploited here to near perfection, and it’s a credit to Director Pierre Morel that he doesn’t try to paint Mills as superdad, or a hero like James Bond that crashes through brick walls with cement trucks or jumps hundreds of feet unto falling trains. There’s nothing humorous about Mills, but there is something human. Morel paints him more akin to Dwayne Johnson’s portrayal of a father who goes to dangerous lengths to save his son in the excellent “Snitch.” Mills fumbles. He gets beat up. He loses the trail and must pick it up again. But it makes for a much more engaging picture. “Taken” knows what kind of movie it wants to be – and it’s all the better for it.
The cinematography in the film is pleasing and engaging. “Taken” plunges audiences into both its action and it’s foreign countries with ease. Mills utilizes a variety of gambits, such as staking out train stations and prostitution corners with high tech listening equipment and elusive tracking devices. We see Paris from the ground up, it’s magnificent architecture and culture sandwiched between action and bravado. We see this most in an old comrade of Mills,’ Jean-Claude (Olivier Rabourdin), a ex-agent who now rides a desk in Paris. He seems to want to protect his job at all costs, threatening Mills as he makes a raucous looking for his daughter.
One exchange between the two is well done, where Jean-Claude pulls a gun out, which we know Mills has removed the bullets from: “That is what happens when you sit behind a desk,” Mills taunts. “You forget things, like the weight in the hand of a gun that’s loaded and one that’s not.”
The acting in the film is all pleasing, and there are really no missteps here. Neeson is believable as a father in over his head, making things up as he goes along. Neeson, who was nominated for ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’ for “Schindler’s List,” isn’t going for an Oscar here, but performs as needed. Playing his daughter, Maggie Grace also does a good job as a scared teenager with a little bit of gumption, but never going to unbelievable heights. The two are backed up by other capable actors such as the aforementioned Janssen, Berkley, Rabourdin, and the villainous Marko, played well by Arben Bajraktaraj.
All in all, “Taken” is an engaging action thriller. It has a good score, pleasing cinematography, capable acting, and envelopes audiences in its worldly atmosphere and tense action sequences. It’s slow pacing may cause some viewers to lose interest, but on the whole most won’t find too much to complain about here. A solid film.
– by Mark Ziobro