– Summary –
Director : Pierre Morel
Cast : Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, Holly Valance, Katie Cassidy, Xander Berkeley, Olivier Rabourdin, Gerard Watkins, Arben Bajraktaraj, Camille Japy, Nicolas Giraud.
Year Of Release : 2008
Length : 95 minutes
Synopsis: A man annihilates the scum of underworld Paris when his daughter is kidnapped by sex-trade crimelords. Think Jason Bourne without Matt Damon.
Review : Thunderous, superbly filmed action masterpiece that’s been criminally underrated by the mass media, Liam Neeson is unbelievably good as the super-agent with a vendetta against the criminal underworld: when he says the bad guys are screwed, you just know they’re screwed. Violent, with most definitely adult themes, a superior action film you’ll find hard to top.
Taut, tight, terrific thriller starring Liam Neeson doing his best “middle-aged Jason Bourne” impression in this European chase/pursuit flick, produced by Luc Besson and directed by Pierre Morel, Taken is a look at the seedier side of the Parisian criminal underworld. Neeson plays Bryan, a former CIA operative who now tries to spend time rekindling the family bond with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and estranged wife (Famke Janssen). When his daughter takes off to Paris with a friend for a holiday, Bryan is almost overbearingly protective and hesitant about the idea, knowing more than his wife and daughter the dangers of overseas travel. From the title of the film, you just know what’s about to happen, and it does, in short order. Kim and her friend are “befriended” by a local lad at the airport, and share a cab ride to their accommodation. The local lad, however, is a scout for a major crime organisation dealing with human traffic, in this case, prostitution. The girls are captured from the apartment they are staying at by a ruthless gang, but not before Kim calls her father on a phone, setting in motion the brutal, uncompromising chain of events to follow.
Bryan, his training and skills coming into play, has held of revealing much of his life to his family, due to the nature of what he does. According to him, he was a “preventer”, somebody the CIA used to stop bad things from happening. Neeson plays this type of character brilliantly, his gravelley voice and level, unassuming demeanour perfectly foiling the rage and brutality he contains in the line of his work. And when his daughter is kidnapped, he uses those skills to get her back.
To say Taken is an exceptionally good film is to call exceptionally good films utter crap. Taken far exceeds the lacklustre promotion, the ordinary DVD cover and perhaps even the low-budget casting by an extraordinary degree. This is an action film that caters to people who like their Jason Bourne over their James Bond: fast, gritty, well paced and with a surprising amount of realism and no-holds barred kinetic style. I would describe this film as being “fat free”, that is, the plot kicks off after a little character set-up, and the action takes place in stylish, dramatic chunks. It helps that Morel was a cinematographer for French based films like The Transporter, and segments of Something’s Gotta Give, which indicates he has seen Hollywood style films being made before. Morel has an obvious appreciation for what works in an action film. The viewers aren’t stupid. People know what’s going on without being preached to, or spoken down to. In Taken, Morel barely gives us time to get to know these people before their lives are ripped apart, and the bullets and fists start flying. But we get the information on them we need right from the outset, and it’s not “hey look, I am an ex-CIA agent” dialogue…. no, it’s Bryan mucking about with his ex-CIA buddies and simply having a normal conversation. It feels more real than having him wearing an old CIA T-shirt or something clichéd. Still, we get it. And that’s enough. We don’t need the extraneous explanation: we have to figure it all out as the film goes along, just like Bryan.
His daughter, and ex wife, have a difficult arrangement. Kim lives with her mother and stepfather, a businessman (and far wealthier individual than Bryan could ever be) who dotes on her in a way that’s almost sickening. Janssen plays the mother as a bitter, Bryan-hating bitch, although perhaps her reasons aren’t that bad… we don’t ever really know the full story because, well, it’s not important to the plot.
And the plot is the pursuit across Paris of Kim, by her father. And what a pursuit it is. And you just know, absolutely know, that when Bryan utters the speech into the phone to the kidnappers that he’s going to find them and kill them, you just know he’s going to do it. This is a man you do not want to piss off. He’s brutal, a silent, deadly, stone-cold killer when he has to be, and when you’re dealing with Euro-trash kidnappers, you need to be. He’s almost frightening.
Honestly, this is a role I thought was beyond Neeson. I had heard of Taken, and never really given it the credence it promised: and I was wrong to doubt. Taken is exceptional, and one of the best action films I have seen in a long, long time. It’s borderline Jason Bourne clone, but without the handycam-style camerawork (except when absolutely required), and if that’s as positive a statement I can utter about this film, then that’s simply not good enough. You need to visit this film: Neeson is compelling and superb in the role of the frantic (and deadly) CIA agent, and man can he pull off the fighting moves! When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. None of this chest beating, bravado seeking macho crap like so many other screen heroes, Neeson just acts, reacts, with a cast-iron stare and that “you are so screwed” attitude towards the Bad Guys that you inadvertently find yourself screaming “yes” at the screen half the film. He takes no prisoners, he doesn’t monologue to the Bad Guys like he’s got all the time in the world: he simply asks questions when the Bad Guys are already dead, or badly wounded. This ain’t a fair fight, and he ain’t fighting fair.
If there was one complaint I could pull out for Taken, and that’s a tough ask, I can assure you, its perhaps that Neesons’ character doesn’t ever feel like he’s stretched to defeat the Bad Guys. Like Jason Bourne, he never misses the mark, never makes a mistake, and always seems to be slightly better than the Bad Guys. And the Bad Guys aren’t idiots, either. These are nasty people, and they behave like it. It’s just that Neeson never seems to get scratched, and only takes a little bit of a beating during the films suddenly, deadly finale. This seeming invincibility voids the believability of the character somewhat: he barely even breathes hard at times, and it’s somewhat unrealistic, if I was to be ultra-picky. But then, the film moves so fast that you hardly have time to dwell on this before you’re back into the action, be it a car chase, fight sequence or simply Neeson glaring down the camera lens and uttering some of the best hard-ass hero lines I’ve heard since John McClane dropped that exploding chair down the elevator shaft. Does he get his daughter back? Well, you’ll have to watch it to find out, but if ever some Bad Guys ever got their comeuppance, it was in this film. Bones snap, cars crash, bullets fly, bodies litter the streets of Paris, and Neeson strides through it, barely looking like the meanest bad-ass to shake up the criminal underworld. Perhaps that why he’s so good: you don’t expect him to be, and he defies you.
Besson has a pretty dismal batting average when it comes to decent action films over his career. For every Taken there’s a Taxi or Kiss Of The Dragon (a film which will no doubt appear in our next Worst Film Week event here at the site!), for every Unleashed there’s a Bandidas. He’s got an eye for style, but sometimes, the man chooses the stupidest things to put his name to. With Taken, he’s found a gem.
I am not sure how many more superlatives I can cram into this review in order to make you go out and watch it. Taken is a superb action film: it’s violent, free of boring stuff like excessive comedy (there’s almost no comedy in the film at all) and snappy, witty (not) buddy-comedy dialogue. This is as narratively focused a film as you’ll find, and it’s awesome. While Bond is busy trying to reclaim the ground Bourne has taken over, Taken is a refreshingly honest action film from a director who knows the ropes behind the camera. I am most impressed with some of the French talent making it’s way into the Hollywood mainstream, like Morel and Louis Leterrier (Incredible Hulk, the Transporter series) and I look forward to whatever these guys do next.
Simply put, Taken is exciting, brutal, violent entertainment that pulls no punches and delivers solid, edge of your seat thrills. I can utterly recommend this film to you, with my highest level of satisfaction.