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Taken (2008, France/USA)

14/03/2011

Director: Pierre Morel  Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace

Co-written by none other than Luc Besson (one of my heroes of cinema) and basically a revenge thriller (one of my favourite movie genres) the excuses for not giving Taken a chance have been running out daily. A recent airing on TV proved the final straw and I couldn’t really avoid it any longer. It’s not that I thought it looked like it would be a bad film, my reservations were based more in the fact that I struggle to view Liam Neeson as an action hero, even if he was Gawain in Excalibur and more importantly I have never forgiven him for his involvement in that oh so great of travesties, Star Wars Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. There may be some minor spoilers coming, don’t blame me if you keep reading.

Neeson plays Bryan Mills a “retired” CIA operative who has jacked it all in to try and rekindle a relationship with his estranged daughter, much to the dismay of his ex wife and her new, millionaire husband. He gets effectively tricked into allowing his seventeen year old daughter to go on a trip to France with her friend despite his reservations about the two girls roaming around Paris. It’s a scary world, he’s seen it (and you suspect has been one of the reasons the world is so scary, more on this later). When the girls reach Paris they fall foul of an Albanian people trafficking ring who kidnap them in order to force them into drug dependent prostitution. Bryan is most unhappy about this situation and when the gang laugh at his suggestion that if they let her go immediately he won’t have to kill them he is left with little choice than to, well, kill them. All.

 I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t that just Man On Fire?” and to an extent you would be correct. There are similarities between the two, the premise of a riled up professional killer instinctively doing what he does best when met with a crisis situation. Taken, however, doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by Tony Scott and Denzel Washington though. There isn’t a huge amount in it, but Man On Fire has the edge because it has something taken doesn’t. Plausability.

Setting the film in Paris is a bit of an own goal. Yes, seeing Bryan work his way up the food chain from the lowly spotters who work the airport for the gang to the mega rich clientele that keep them in business is hugely satisfying and very entertaining (his table manners leave a lot to be desired) and the various interrogation and fight scenes are handled competently and with an adequate level of bombast and excitement but it all seems a little improbable when set against a backdrop of a modern, first world city. It’s not so much that fact that such a despicable criminal organisation could operate unmolested, paying off those who should be shutting them down that’s difficult to swallow but more that even a seemingly superhuman, highly driven and extensively trained CIA assassin would struggle to evade capture in a city that he seems to ripping apart brick by brick in order to find his daughter. It may seem a small point, but for me it stopped the film ever reaching higher than just above average. As entertaining as it was, it didn’t succeed in suspending my disbelief and for me that is a huge obstacle.

The singer subplot is pointless and absurd, seemingly slapped in to make the ending extra happy (as if saving his daughter from a gang of depraved sex traffickers wasn’t a strong enough basis to re-establish his relationship with his daughter?!) and provides a missed opportunity to explore the irony of Bryan saving his daughter from prostitution only to effectively open the door for her to be prostituted by the music industry. Maybe that will be the sequel with Neeson popping a cap in Simon Cowell’s ass? We can but hope.

That said, there’s plenty here to love although I would still question Neeson’s suitability in the lead. I admit it may be my own prejudices but he didn’t really convince me that he could achieve the things he does although he clearly put a lot of effort into getting the action right. He was trained by a former SAS soldier in unarmed combat and firearms skills, something that shows through in the fight scenes, especially where he has to contend with multiple attackers and lots of close quarter combat.

It’s the kind of film I’m glad I’ve seen but is highly unlikely to be revisited by me any time soon, satisfying but predictable.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 14/03/2011 21:57

    He’ll always be Darkman to me.

  2. 18/04/2011 01:43

    Good review.

    Re your point about the implausability of this violent film being set in Paris: one Luc Besson film I really really like is Kiss of the Dragon. But one minor quibble I have with this film is that crazy amounts of violence take place in Paris and the villainous cop who is the instigator of it all never seems to be put under scrutiny or reprimanded for it.

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