Eric D. Snider

Taken

Movie Review

Taken

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: B

Released: January 30, 2009

 

Directed by:

Cast:

For the past several years, there has been a tug-of-war in the world of action films. Some, like the Jason Bourne and recent James Bond movies, have sought to establish moodier, more introspective heroes who face realistic dilemmas in the midst of the usual shooting and car chases. Others, like "Shoot 'em Up," "Crank," and "The Transporter," have gone the other way, decreasing characterization to almost nothing and focusing entirely on over-the-top action. Both philosophies are viable; the only problem is when a film tries to have it both ways, like "Quantum of Solace" and "Transporter 3" did.

It's very pleasing, then, that after playing nearly everywhere else in the world, the French-produced (but English-language) "Taken" has finally come to American shores, where it is welcome as a delightfully dizzying balm to soothe the pain inflicted by recent action films that have failed to deliver. It subscribes to the less-talk-more-rock school of thought, intentionally free of nuance but overbrimming with relentless, efficient, energetic mayhem. It plays out like a season of "24," crammed into 90 minutes.

Our Jack Bauer is named Bryan Mills, played by Liam Neeson -- and yes, they found a way to make Oskar Schindler into an action hero. Mills used to be a CIA operative, but he quit and moved to Los Angeles to be closer to his teenage daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), who lives there with her mother (Famke Janssen) and filthy-rich stepfather (Xander Berkeley). Mills regrets letting his work ruin his family life, and he wants to make up for lost time.

Just after turning 17, Kim and her best friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) take a trip to Paris, where bad things happen to them at the hands of a ring of Albanian flesh-traders. (Did they learn nothing from "Hostel"?) Mills must rush to France to save the day, having been helpfully informed by his CIA contacts that he probably has just 96 hours before Kim and Amanda are gone forever. There's nothing like a deadline to light a fire under a guy -- just ask Jack Bauer. (Coincidentally, Jack's daughter is also named Kim, and Xander Berkeley appeared in the first two seasons of "24." Hmm.)

Mills is resourceful, clever, and utterly ruthless. He's a master of hand-to-hand combat and can easily anticipate his opponents' next several moves. If he has qualms about employing brutal tactics to extract information from villains, he does not voice them. Besides, he isn't acting on behalf of the government anymore -- he's acting as a man trying to save his daughter's life. Under those circumstances, who among us wouldn't non-fatally shoot an innocent woman as a means of making her husband cooperate? (Wait, didn't Jack Bauer do that once, too?!)

Directed by Pierre Morel, who made the similarly giddy "District B13," and written by "Transporter" duo Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, "Taken" sets up a dire situation, establishes that the butt-kicking hero is more than capable of resolving it, then lets us thrill at seeing this accomplished. That our reactions are somewhat Pavlovian -- hero says cool things; audience cheers -- is the sort of thing that would only be pointed out by a killjoy. These are matters of black-and-white, with clearly defined heroes and villains, and there's nothing wrong with seeing the good guys win every now and then.

Grade: B

Rated PG-13, a little profanity, a lot of violence including some torture, general mayhem

1 hr., 33 min.

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This item has 12 comments

  1. GWGumby says:

    "yes, they found a way to make Oskar Schindler into an action hero"

    I know, its meant mainly as a joke. But let's not forget about:
    -Darkman
    -Batman Begins
    -Star Wars Episode 1
    or even:
    -Krull?

    Liam Neeson has seen his share of action, yet somehow people tend to forget.

  2. GWGumby says:

    "yes, they found a way to make Oskar Schindler into an action hero"

    I know, its meant mainly as a joke. But let's not forget about:
    "Darkman," "Batman Begins," "Star Wars Episode 1," or even "Krull."

    Liam Neeson has seen his share of action, yet somehow people tend to forget.

  3. Stacy says:

    I do not think I've ever seen a movie that had less bull**** in it than that one. It didn't screw around at all, had little to no fluff, and compared to most action movies, the action was all very believable. I mean, it was like... "My daughter was kidnapped, and I told her mom I'd save her, so I did. The end." It was great.

  4. Kate says:

    The movie was really refreshing, and I am glad to have seen it in theatres (far too often I walk about wishing I'd not wasted enough money to go have dinner somewhere, instead.

    I was bothered by two things though;one of which wasn't actually in the movie. I have to admit I was a little disturbed by the fact that during many of the torture moments, people in our audience were laughing. Have we as a society slipped so far that we find it funny to watch people be gruesomely murdered? Just a bothersome side note of the experience.

    Secondly; what the heck was up with the ending? Did we really have to have the cheesey final scene? It struck as so untrue to the end of the film. Not only would that girl be far too scared for months to be able to do something so normal, but it just felt like it was a much too contrived attempt to tie up that mini story line. It would have been a much stronger ending had it cut before that scene.

  5. Stacy says:

    "I was bothered by two things though;one of which wasn't actually in the movie. I have to admit I was a little disturbed by the fact that during many of the torture moments, people in our audience were laughing. Have we as a society slipped so far that we find it funny to watch people be gruesomely murdered? Just a bothersome side note of the experience."

    Yeah a lady who was sitting on the other side of my boyfriend was laughing and saying "oh no here we go" very loudly during that scene and I turned toward her and said, "Oh my gawd." And she goes, "Sorry, I can't help it!"

    I think a lot of people (like her) laugh because they don't want to take the torture seriously because doing so would make them uncomfortable. But I'm sure there are some who laugh just because they're jerks.

    I didn't have a problem with that last scene, though. I think it would have been better if it had ended in the boat room scene with the hugging. But I didn't think the end scene was too cheezy myself.

    My favorite part of the movie, though was, "we can nego--"... That would have been a perfect place to add some stupid one liner from the hero ("One bullet or two?") but they resisted! Love it!

  6. Jason says:

    Fantastic flick--my audience cringed and laughed at the torture scenes. Cringed because we're human, and laughed because it was so so deserving (and in a couple of instances-shocking). In fact, that's what I liked most about the movie is that Neeson's character was utterly no-nonsense about the bad guys. And, let's be honest, this is as bad as bad guys get. So to see anyone even peripherally involved with the trafficking operation get some comeuppance was very satisfying. I have no problem seeing these types of characters receiving verdict and sentence immediately. If anything, it made me wonder how bad that last Punisher movie must be since this one punched all the right cards.

  7. Snow says:

    Great movie. My wife actually liked it too, which I found a little surprising. She's not usually in to this type of movie, but I was able to coerce her into seeing it by promising to see "Confessions or a Shopaholic" next week.

    She was more disturbed by the skin trading than the torture--as oxymoronic as that statement is. I personally felt the torture was relatively tame and that Neeson's character showed more restraint than I could have if I were in the same situation. I cringe to think what I might do to my daughter's kidnapper given 5 minutes alone in a room with him.

    Probably not too much though, since my wife said as we were leaving the theater, "I wish I had a husband who could protect me and the family like that!" Maybe "Confessions..." is more up my alley.

  8. Arizona says:

    I loved this film! I couldn't help thinking in every scene, "How would I have handled that?" And I was terrifically impressed with Neeson's decisive, no-hesitation response, in addressing each new hurdle....even shooting his "host's" wife in the arm!! Man, o' man, I thought, this guy is TOUGH! No reluctance to take the bull by the horns. This film deserved nothing less than an A-, despite the too-neatly tied bow at the end

  9. Saffron Grass says:

    Maggie Grace plays a much better stranded survivor brat, than a 17 year old. Her "teenager" was completely unbelievable with all her awkward running, bouncing and squealing. I found it odd that playing a teenager would look so uncomfortable for an actress. That's got to be one of the more easier roles you would think.

  10. Dave says:

    Action movie making at it's worst, most improbable gibberish.

    I think we've seen enough dumb action movies where the solo hero evades a hail of bullets from 30 bad guys, don't you? I hate movies where the hero always has an improbable magic way to get out of impossible situations, rather than having the power of the plot and excellent writing making the scenes realistic; where the hero is shown to be human and doesn't necessarily survive the predicament but you see how he grows from beginning to end.

    This is just a cheap imitation of one of the best movies made in the last 10 years - "Man on Fire" starring Denzel Washington. Now that is movie making at it's finest!

    If you haven't seen it, get it now. You'll see why I think "Taken" is just drivel in comparison. I know that's a tough comparison - a first rate production with amazing writing to the ridiculous writing in "Taken".

    And what about that "Amazing" ending in Taken? I was embarrassed for whoever was responsible for that mess of a scene. With the amazing finale scene, this movie gets a deserved F.

  11. Dougrad says:

    Sure, the film had plenty of impracticalities, but I thought it was a fun and entertaining action flick that shouldn't have been "taken" too seriously. I am surprised at how it got away with a PG-13 rating, given its endless and brutal violence, torture and very mature subject matter. I'm sure it would have been rated R had it come out 10 or 15 years ago.

  12. Chelsea says:

    "Maggie Grace plays a much better stranded survivor brat, than a 17 year old. Her “teenager” was completely unbelievable with all her awkward running, bouncing and squealing."

    I read this as a way of making her more into a little girl: especially with the opening scenes of the movie. To her father, and to all fathers I think, daughters always remain little girls - even more so when they are in peril. I think the wardrobe, the behaviors (running out of a restaurant crying she didn't get her way, for instance) were subtle moves to make her seem like a little girl. A little girl in a woman's body - the former is the image Neeson has as he's rescuing her, the latter the currency that the criminals traded in.

    I thought this was a very well-done movie. It really started out painting Neeson as this almost pathetic figure trying to get his life with his daughter back, and he suddenly emerges as this complete BAMF and saves her life. There's this juxtaposition that's really interesting to see. (Also, a small note - I was very glad that Neeson never told his ex-wife "I told you so" or anything to that effect. I half expected it to happen when she first found out, but he was focused on Kim as it should have been. Just sayin'.)

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