In 2009 a little film coming out of France gained a buzz from on-line film bloggers. The film wasn’t the latest arthouse attempt to relive the glory days of French New Wave. It wasn’t a film that’s become part of the extreme French horror that’s becme all the rage in the horror circles in the past decade or so. This film was an action-thriller starring Irish actor Liam Neeson with an ensemble cast of actors from the US, UK, France and Albania. The film I am talking about is Taken by French filmmaker Pierre Morel (his previous film, District 13 with it’s parkour action scenes would make it a cult hit) and produced by his mentor Luc Besson.
Taken at its most basic core is a film about a father’s love for his daughter who has gotten herself kidnapped by Albanian sex-traffickers while on vacation in Paris, France. Liam Neeson’s character gets introduced as a retired government worker and divorcee whose attempt to reconnect with Kim his teenage daughter (played by Maggie Grace of Lost). His attempts to impress his daughter and make her happy gets upstaged by his ex-wife’s richer husband and stepfather to his daughter. It doesn’t help that Neeson’s character Bryan Mills has skillsets not easily translated to the civilian sector. He’d take an offer of a bodyguard gig from one of his former co-workers and it’s during this security job that we get a clue as to what sort of government employee Bryan Mills was before his decision to retire.
Moving forward we finally get past the introductions of the characters (Famke Janssen as Mills’ ex-wife really comes across as a major harridan who seems intent on punishing Mills for selfish reasons). Mills learns of a trip Kim will be taking with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) to follow U2’s European concert tour. Mills, the clearheaded parent, doesn’t like this plan to have his daughter galavanting across Europe without adult supervision, but his guilt for having neglected Kim while he was working for the government plus his ex-wife’s insistence that Kim take the trip makes him relent, but not without giving her some advice to stay safe.
To say that Kim and Amanda get into a heap of trouble right as soon as they arrive in Paris would be an understatement. The two get kidnapped while staying at the luxury apartment of Amanda’s cousin. Before Kim is taken by the masked intruders (who’ve already taken Amanda) she’s able to make a desperate phone call to her father. Calm, collected and knowing that her daughter’s abduction was an inevitability, Mills instructs his daughter to relay to him as much information as possible about those abducting her. With that information in hand Mills heads to Paris to find his daughter (and to punish those who dare kidnap her).
From then on Taken becomes an action-thriller which barely gives the audience a chance to take a breather. Mills knows his time frame when it comes to finding his daughter gets shorter and shorter thus goes about his job searching for her in a deadly efficient manner. Mills becomes Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne rolled into one. There’s no witty, debonair Bond in this character. Mills goes about his business of interrogating, killing and gathering information with cold, calculating efficiency which leaves no room for Bondesque dialogue. The story moving forward once Mills arrive in Paris becomes almost an extension of Mills’ character. Writers Besson and fellow collaborator Robert Mark Kamen keep the dialogue to the barest minimum. We learn more about Neeson’s character through his actions more than we do during character interactions with other players in the film.
The film hinges on the audience buying Liam Neeson as a deadly, ex-CIA operative who manages to survive every violent encounter throughout the film (some by his own doing and others just trying to survive through it). From how people have reacted to this film and Neeson’s character I would say that it’s a big definitive yes that we buy Neeson as someone akin to Bauer and Bourne. In fact, I would say that Neeson’s Bryan Mills would be the more dangerous of the three. He has no compunction about using torture to gather information and barely breaks a sweat when killing those involved in some way in his daughter’s abduction. He has no bouts of guilt about what he has done in the past (probably killing as a secret agent) , what he’s doing in the present (killing to find his daughter) and what he’ll be doing in the future (probably thinking killing thoughts about anyone who will look at his daughter funny). Neeson’s Bryan Mills is a cold, efficient killing machine who doesn’t use fancy moves to take out his opponents and willing to shoot them in the back if it ends the fight in his favor.
The action sequences in Taken has some parkour influences, but not enough to make it distracting. There were no Michael Bay-style skewed camera angles, slo-mo shots and ADHD-style editing. Morel actually keeps the frenetic editing that made the Jason Bourne fight scenes so dynamic to a minimum. There’s just enough of it to make the fight scenes look brutal and painful, but not enough to make people nauseous. The climactic action sequence on the yacht of a rich buyer of sex-slaves goes by so quickly yet was more entertaining than half the prolonged action scenes from Bay’s Transformers sequel.
The rest of the cast barely keep up with Neeson in the film. They become tertiary characters whose job were to give Neeson’s character the motivations he needs to get the job done. I will say that Maggie Grace as Kim was believable as a teenager even down to the spoiled teen she starts off in the beginning. But again her character was just there to motivate Neeson’s character to go back to doing what he did well and that’s kick ass (he’d probably do it just as well while chewing bubble gum).
In the end, Taken was an action-thriller which more than surprised many people. It cemented Liam Neeson as one badass dude in the same league as Kiefer Sutherland’s Bauer and Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. The film became a showcase for people to witness Neeson kickass and do it believably while Morel does just enough to keep the film from becoming too ridiculous. While Taken won’t herald the coming of another era of French New Wave, it does succeed in doing what it set out to do and that’s entertain, thrill and just give the audience some kickass escapist fare that some big-budgeted Hollywood studio titles never seem to do.