Liam Neeson Brings It On

Main Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen

Director: Pierre Morel

Taken is a textbook action movie. Tough, quiet guy with family issues happens to find himself in the role of savior – using the same skills that found him with family issues in the first place. In this case, Neeson plays Bryan, a retired military man whose job came between him and his wife and daughter. He is trying to make up for lost time now, having relocated to establish a relationship with his now teenage child (Maggie Grace). It’s tough going what with a super-rich stepfather (Xander Berkeley) in the picture and an ex-wife (Famke Janssen) who hasn’t forgiven him one bit for his past neglect. But…all of that fails to matter when the daughter is kidnapped and Bryan must save her.

There’s absolutely nothing new in Taken. We’ve seen the same scenario a hundred times, and that’s just in the Die Hard movies.   Bryan has all sorts of special training and years of experience that somehow allow him to track the kidnappers and violate laws across the world with seeming impunity. He also appears to be made of solid steel rather than flesh and blood, for even machine gun fire fails to penetrate his manly shell. His righteous anger is apparently his shield, and no bad guy is safe from his wrath.  Plus, he knows a whole lot of cool ways to both disable and kill those same bad guys – sometimes in vast numbers in short periods of time.

Make no mistake, when you mess with Bryan’s daughter, he will kick asses and take names. Then he will hunt down the people with those names, kick th eir asses, take more names and keep at it like the Energizer Bunny having a psychotic break. People, listen, the guy wants his daughter back – it would be wise to comply.

Taken sufers from predictability issues.   But so what? That’s not why I see a movie like this; I see it for the action and for the vicarious satisfaction of watching one guy take on a room full of baddies and win. I see it for the adrenaline rush of watching a guy older than I am haul some evil dude out and give him a richly deserved beating.

I see it because I’m a little twisted.

And Taken is there for me in every way. Neeson turns out to be a great action lead. His intensity never wavers and viewers genuinely feel for him. It takes a while to warm up to his character, but that’s as it should be – he isn’t a warm and fuzzy guy. Once audiences know Bryan, we get behind his crusade not only to find his daughter and feel his desperation over the prospect of losing the only person he really cares for in his insular world. He has friends (friends with helpful expertise, of course), but his emotional world is empty save for the glimmer of hope that he can salvage a relationship with this child who has managed to put her own life in danger.

The Return of Qui-Gonn Jinn Minus That Pesky Force

Taken’s action scenes are fabulous, with all the implausibility that comes with one man on a crusade against an organized syndicate of evil-doers. Shoot-outs, fist fights, some martial arts, a knife fight or two, some torture – Bryan can do it all without blinking an eye. Yeah, he has a military past all right, and it wasn’t serving chow in the army mess hall.

Most of the action is photographed extremely well – Taken has a fairly spare, clean look that mostly avoids those massive action set pieces that only result in confusion over who is doing what to whom and why.   Neeson still gets to tip-toe through gunfire on many occasions; there are just fewer people shooting the guns, making it easier to tell what’s actually happening.

The biggest issue I have with Taken involves its core plot, the kidnapping of the teenage daughter. I realize that it’s nothing more than an excuse for Neeson to beat people up, but it would be nice if the kid wasn’t such a spoiled, whiny snot. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Neeson’s ability to express his own desperate wish for human contact with this creature, I wouldn’t care what happens to her. It isn’t  Grace’s performance that I question – she does well enough with what she’s given – it’s the decision to present her as such a brat from the outset. It would be easier to get behind Bryan if she were even the littlest bit likable. The ex-wife is not only no better, she’s actively worse. But he isn’t saving her, so it doesn’t really matter that she’s a complete harpy until she wants something from Bryan.

Aside from that minor complaint, Taken supplies exactly what I want from a serious action movie. A solid, stoic hero with a just cause, baddies evil enough to deserve their fates and action ludicrous enough to leap the barrier of realism and become enjoyable escapism. Recommended for just about anyone who occasionally wants to cheer on a good, righteous beat-down.

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