Taken (2008) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language (cut version)
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Holly Valance, Olivier Rabourdin, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, Katie Cassidy, Xander Berkeley
Director: Pierre Morel
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Review published January 5, 2015
Liam Neeson (Narnia, Breakfast on Pluto) plays one angry dad in Taken, an action flick that posits what it would be like if an ex-CIA agent had to use his "particular set of skills" in order to save his daughter from the nefarious clutches of a sex slave ring. Neeson's spook is Bryan Mills, who quit his all-consuming life undercover in covert ops in order to look after his mostly estranged daughter, Kim (Grace, The Fog), in her last year as a minor. Long absent, he acts against his better judgment in allowing consent for Kim to take a trip with a 19-year-old friend to Paris, though it does come under the condition of constant contact. It doesn't take long before Kim and friend are abducted, and with a small window of time in which she is likely gone for good, Mills high-tails it to Europe in order to bust some serious heads. Nothing's going to stand in the way of him getting Kim back.
Taken is directed by Pierre Morel, who helmed District B13, one of the better films scripted by the prolific team of Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (Bandidas, Transporter 2), so there is ample reason to hope lightning might strike twice. Besson and Kamen continue to write genre flicks with a comic book depth, which does give the production a kind of low-overhead, B-movie feel that hits the mark for action nuts, but for those looking for a good story or situations that feel plausible, you'll come away as empty-handed and empty-headed. The way Mills immediately can string clues together, mostly through absurdly conceived happenstance (a glittery jacket, a translated Albanian phrase, etc.), will make one's mind explode if the film ever let up its pace enough to allow for a moment's thought on it. Luckily, it doesn't.
This French production probably won't help the tourism industry when just about every attractive woman who gets off a plane is snatched away before they can even get in a taxi, but they divert the actual blame to Albanian immigrants, so that's OK, right? Quite a risk to lose potentially lose the Albanian film-going market.
The best thing I'll say for Taken is that it's an economical viewing, in and out of its action in about 90 minutes -- that's a lot less time than sitting through a season of "24" for similar results. The action scenes are well delivered, though I question its PG-13 rating, as it is often fairly brutal, and its seamy subtext involving young women sold to a life of drug addiction and repeated rape sure doesn't feel like it's going for family entertainment value. Especially troubling are scenes in which Mills beats or tortures those he is interrogating until they give him the information he is seeking so that the pain will stop, then he kills them anyway.
Mills also seems to be disinterested in keeping things like this from happening to anyone else. He doesn't try to dismantle the sex trade operation, and doesn't stop to save any of the young women who don't have direct information on where he can find his daughter. Rather than report incidents to the government or his friends in the CIA of other American daughters being raped and killed at an alarming rate in Paris, or even rampant Parisian police corruption that leads to turning a blind eye to the whole thing, Mills is content ignore all of that, choosing instead to set up a meeting between Kim and her idol in the pop music industry to assess her singing talents.
Viewers that get off on wanton acts of violence in the guise of retribution will be taken with Taken, but I have to say, despite being well put together from an action standpoint, the ugliness (and silliness) of it keeps me from being able to actually stamp a recommendation on this thing, despite its effective action punch.
-- Followed by Taken 2 (2012) and Taken 3 (2015)
©2015 Vince Leo