A parent can imagine a lot of bad things happening to their child, as that’s party of their job. As such, a parent often goes pretty overboard to prevent those bad things from coming true. But what would they actually do if one of those bad things came true? If their child was Taken, what could they do? If you’re the lucky parent that is an ex-CIA spy and has a lot of deadly skills, it’s much easy to tear up Paris to find her, as Liam Neeson sets out to do.
Brian Mills is a father who was never able to be there for his daughter Kim. But Brian has left his long-time job to try and make up for it. It’s not an easy task, however, with a bitter ex-wife and a rich stepfather in the way. In the meantime, Brian reluctantly allows Kim to go to Paris with her young friend. There, his worst fears are confirmed when he gets a call and overhears Kim being taken. As such, Brian has to go above and beyond to find his daughter and bring her home. Since his long time job was a “preventer” for the CIA, it makes things a little easier.
It’s been a few months or so since a one man army rampaged through Europe to find a loved one. Taken’s take on it has all the hallmarks of the genre – bone crunching action, a torture or two, and token nods to a real problem, in this case sex slave trafficking. Taken doesn’t start with the bone crunching right away, however. The first half hour or so just has a regular old story about a neglectful father trying to reconnect with his daughter.
In that first act, Taken feel like it is trying to have some fun setting up that genre, then switching it into a shoot-em-up. With The Professional director Luc Besson co-writing, Taken has the pedigree to play around with these two different formula. It gets away with that at first, but others may be impatient waiting for the action to start.
The promos for Taken, and one of the main selling points, have Neeson’s Brian give a speech over the phone to his daughter’s kidnappers. One can’t help but wonder how Taken would look if that was the first scene of the film, to drop us right into the action and then have the initial half-hour as flashback scenes. But once the waiting for that made-for-movie trailer speech is done, Taken reverts right into its true shoot-em-up roots.
These kind of movies all look the same in the end, as Taken does. The only difference is in what kind of cool kills and action scenes it can get away with. Since Taken is PG-13, it can’t get too bloody or gory. But Taken has the expected handful of action scenes, chases and martial arts moves to make it worth seeing on the big screen. Like with many action films in the Bourne era, you have to get past the shaky camera to see Neeson’s kicking and killing.
In addition, like with many action movies in the last several years, the action can’t help but remind audiences of 24. But Taken is a bit more blatant with 24 comparisons, especially the first few years when Jack Bauer kept saving daughter Kim from countless eye-rolling jams. Taken’s kidnapped daughter is even named Kim, with her rich stepfather played by 24’s George Mason, Xander Berkeley. Neeson’s Brian even shoots a suspect’s wife, a la Jack in the middle of 24’s fifth season. With Neeson giving the occasional sad eyes and tortured looks, a la Jack Bauer, all Taken is missing is the split screen – which I think it had in the trailers. But 24 hasn’t had Albanians and sex traders as villains yet, so Taken has that in its favor.
Neeson is the difference in Taken, since this kind of part is not what he is best known for. Neeson is more used to being a noble mentor, with the occasional bad guy part to subvert that image. Like Kiefer Sutherland, Neeson has the voice and gravitas to work as a killing machine, and as a desperate father. Just hearing Neeson say some of Brian’s more off-color threats provides an extra bit of thrills. Maggie Grace is a less successful bit of type casting, as the blissfully naive daughter in danger. Grace sadly isn’t too far off from her days as Shannon on Lost, back in the ancient pre-time travel days of that show. Famke Janssen, as Brian’s ex-wife, is mostly around to bicker with Neeson and be pretty much wrong about everything.
Thanks to Taken, 2009 has its first action rampage of the year, and certainly not the last. Other action films will probably have more bones broken this year, but Taken and Neeson help provide a slick opening act to the action year. Taken won’t be remembered too much by the end of the year, but that means it won’t be remembered for being too stupid or offensive either- which is more than some other action movies can say.