Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, Holly Valance, Katie Cassidy, Xander Berkeley, Olivier Rabourdin, Gérard Watkins, Famke Janssen
Directed by Pierre Morel
Expectations: Very high. I’ve seen it before.
Like Liam Neeson’s character in the film, Taken is a quick-moving, no-bullshit, relentless force. With this film, director Pierre Morel has crafted one of the best modern action movies that didn’t come out of Asia, and watching it for the second time didn’t diminish its impact much at all. When I first checked this one out, about four years ago, I hadn’t seen a fantastic action movie in what seemed like forever. So when Taken took control of my senses and didn’t let go for a solid 90 minutes, I was very much impressed. This time around, I’m a different person. I now have a website, and through it I have rediscovered my love of Hong Kong action cinema, so this viewing of Taken was through slightly different glasses.
Taken is about an ex-government operative (Liam Neeson), whose job caused him to be away from his family most of the time. He’s now estranged from his wife and he barely knows his daughter. In an effort not to be an overprotective asshole, Neeson agrees to allow his daughter to travel to Paris, against his better judgment. And like a true gentleman, he never says “I told you so” when she and her friend get kidnapped within their first hour on the ground in France.
As I alluded to above, this viewing of Taken was tempered just a bit by my rekindled love for Hong Kong action films. Where I previously thought that Taken was floor-to-ceiling awesome, I now notice the chinks of overly fast editing and a little too much shaky cam. And also after seeing The Raid, it all just sort of pales in comparison. But I’m not trying to compare it to other movies, Taken really is one of the best modern action films in years. It’s a tautly constructed piece of work that never lets up once it gets going. I also noticed that even though I remembered what was coming, the film still elicited the same response from me in key locations. My favorite scene is when Neeson infiltrates the gang’s hideout by disguising himself as a cop. It’s a flawlessly written scene that contains one of the best exchanges of dialogue in the entire film, and left me grinning wide like a new daddy while Neeson mopped up the scum of grand ole Paris, just as I did the first time I saw it. It’s such a great moment.
When you know where the thrills and the excitement are coming from, an action film sometimes loses some of the wind from its sails, but Taken is one of the true greats and keeps on kickin’ ass until the bitter end. The action may be a little quick on the editing, and the camera may be too shaky, but goddamn if those action scenes aren’t incredibly visceral and exciting. The hits are hard and brutal (again, nothing on The Raid level, but still hardcore nonetheless), and the stakes are always on the table. This is never more apparent than in the chase scene that leads into the finale. Neeson is so close to losing everything he’s worked for, and his desperation comes out in the form of a frantic car ride through opposing traffic, against the backdrop of a Paris night. The camera reflects his feelings by becoming even more frantic, chaotic and unhinged. It’s all down to this moment and if he makes one wrong move, it’s all over. The whole film is teeming with this undercurrent of insurmountable odds and crackerjack timing, but it’s never more apparent than in this one scene.
The relentless thrust of the film is also informed by its slower introductory period. It sets up Neeson’s character of the absent father well, allowing the audience to connect to him, his daughter and his ex-wife at basic, primal levels. Herein lies the reason that Taken is so good: in addition to the incredible action, Taken also features a strong, emotionally resonant core. Seeing it for a second time, I saw through some of the sappier elements, which are admittedly a very minor element of the plot, but they still work rather well.
What else can I say? If you haven’t seen Taken and you like action, you’ve been denying yourself a jolt of adrenaline that is as well-constructed as it is exciting. So what are you waiting for? Just watch it already. And if you haven’t seen The Raid, couple it with Taken and they would make for a hell of a brutal double feature. There’s also this thing imaginatively titled Taken 2 coming out this Fall, and I can’t imagine that it will live up to the awesome set out here. Taken is really a self-contained film, and one that I’d prefer was left untainted. Then again, you could say the same thing about Die Hard, and most of those sequels turned out alright. We’ll see!