Liam Neeson is not someone you’d normally take as a high-kicking crime fighter, but that is just who he plays in the dazzling new Euro thriller, Taken. Directed by Pierre Morel, co-written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, Taken is worth the price of admission just on the action scenes alone. The plot is mostly ludicrous but you have much time to contemplate it because the moment you start realizing how badly written it really is, you’re off on a whirlwind adventure. It’s a heartstopping, mind-numbing, fist-pumping extravaganza that leaves little time to breathe and less time to start calculating facts and counting bodies.
Neeson plays ex-government operative Bryan Mills, who is now trying to lead a semi-normal life by connecting with his estranged 17-year-old daughter Kim, (Maggie Grace). He needs to give her more breathing room, says mom (Famke Janssen). But she doesn’t know how the world works, so he reminds her. There are monsters out there ready to eat up pretty, virginal teenage girls as they step off the tarmac. By the way, we know she’s a virgin because it’s stated twice in the film and, believe it or not, it is pertinent information.
Chalk one up for paranoid dad this time around. Kim is kidnapped almost immediately upon arriving in Paris. But the great thing about Taken is that they never squander an opportunity for action or suspense. Rather than simply have a scene where Kim is retrieved from plain site and shoved into a van, they have her on the phone with her worldly father who tells her, “they’re going to take you.” And he then instructs her what to do. “Put the phone down, shout out everything you see.”
When the kidnapper grabs the cell phone and listens to hear who’s talking, Neeson gives him a calm warning, telling them if it’s money they want, he doesn’t have that. But what he does have is a “particular set of skills”, and that if they let her go he won’t come after them. But if they don’t let her go, he’ll find them and he’ll kill them. We have no doubt from then on about what will transpire. We know two things: he will find her, and he will kill everyone who gets in his way.
Because the film never stops for one second to gather its breath, Taken becomes one of those purely pleasurable cinematic experiences that seem to exist only to please a cash-paying crowd. There are no long, ponderous monologues, no attempts to contact police and then becoming frustrated with their ineptitude, there are no scenes of the daughter trying to escape her captors: there is only his objective and the fulfillment of that objective. Failure is not an option.
Neeson is particularly good here, well suited to a role that, by all rights, should have gone to someone else. It feels a little cheap, kind of a low-rent hi-tech action pic that might have gone straight-to-video if it weren’t so inexplicably fun to watch. Taken is one to see, especially if you’re looking for a vicarious parental revenge fantasy that duludes you into thinking you can save your kids from the worst things life offers up.