February 1, 2009

Movie Review: Taken (2009)

taken5_largeHere is a movie that caught me completely off guard. I recall seeing trailers for it back in the summer of 2008 with what I thought was an intended September/October release. Then it inexplicably vanished from the release schedule only to pop up now on the last weekend of January. Not exactly a high profile release spot, pairing off with Super Bowl weekend, no less. Still, the trailer looked promising and featuring Liam Neeson in a role that I do not recall him filling since the days of Darkman. What gave me a bit more hope was that Luc Besson is involved. Besson is an action guy I trust. His films may not always be great, but they are always entertaining.

takenpic1As I sat there watching this tale of vengeance unfold, one other movie came to mind. That one movie was Rambo, not First Blood or Rambo III, but the four film in the series that hit screens about this time last year. At first glance these two movies do not seem to have anything in common other than the action genre. I am sure you are wondering just what I could see in these two movies that could equate them on any level. The answer is simple, both films feature over the top action with bad guys being dispatched in scarily efficient manner by a lone warrior who is well versed in the ways of dealing death. Both have a personal stake in the success of their chosen mission, which is not sanctioned or backed by any world government or military branch, secret or otherwise.


On top of that, they both use these completely unbelievable setups in the service of a real world issue. Do either of them serve to illuminate the seriousness of their respective issues? I do not know, but they could prove to be a way to introduce them to those who may not be familiar with them. Or, they could just be a means to an end for a film that is purely intended as exploitative entertainment. Is there anything wrong with that? I would say no. Both of them are immensely entertaining.

In retrospect, there is another comparison that can be made. Does this not seem an awful lot like an old Steven Seagal-style plot? He very easily could have played the Neeson role. However, as we all know there is a big difference in acting ability between Steven Seagal and Liam Neeson. Where an 80's era Seagal would have made this a fun movie, Liam Neeson makes this an excellent one. They bring very different intensities to the screen, but Neeson combines that intensity with a much broader depth of emotion, and it is the emotion that truly sells the role.

takenpic6What? You want to know a bit more about the movie? All right, I think I can help you out there.

As the film begins, we meet Bryan Mills (Neeson), a "sort of retired" CIA man who has seen action in various parts of the world. We learn that his job has kept him away from his family, which he ultimately lost to the ridiculously rich Stuart (Xander Berkeley). He has taken his leave from the CIA at the expense of the work he loves and, one would presume, a more comfortable home life. He did it so he could be closer to his now seventeen year old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace.

Conflict begins when Kim wants to go overseas with a girlfriend where they will be overseen by the friend's cousins. Kim's mother, Leonore (Famke Janssen), is all set to let her go, but Bryan knows better. His job has opened up his eyes to the dangers that exist all around. He eventually relents, and she is off to Paris.

No sooner has she arrived that she and her friend are targeted, marked, and taken. Fortunately, she is not grabbed so fast that she isn't able to get a frantic call off to her father. Now, we all know what that means. Enter the speech from the trailer, it is time to employ his skills. Bryan becomes a man possessed of one goal, to get his daughter back at all costs.

takenpic3Bryan employs his CIA contacts for some information and off he goes, much like Terrence Stamp in The Limey, no one will get in his way or prevent him from achieving his goal. No, this is not terribly realistic, and the ease with which Bryan is able to exact some of his vengeance. So what. It is exciting and Liam Neeson makes you believe he can do this. The man carries so much emotional weight and brings the project much more credibility than it probably deserves.

Taken is a thrilling ride from start to finish. Yes, it does feature human trafficking as a story device and yes it is a bit exploitative of such a tragic occurrence, but it has a great glossy sheen of action. No one can shepherd an action film to the screen like Luc Besson.

Pierre Morel, one of Besson's protege's, proved himself with the fun District B13 and now he has proven himself with slightly more serious material. He keeps the movie moving along, action always in high gear while never losing focus on the story or the characters. No small feat for a movie that is so unbelievable as this.

As well executed as the film is technically, there is no way you can understate what Liam Neeson brings to the table. He is the grounding force. Yes, he is going around beating the snot out of anyone who gets in his way, but it is more than just pure revenge. He carries so much emotional weight, just look into his eyes, past the anger driven intensity, you will find the desperation of a man who is danger of losing the most important person in his life. There are few actors who could make something so unbelievable resonate in a believable manner.

Bottomline. You want crazy? You want wild? You want a film that is more than sheer surface gloss? See Taken, see what Liam Neeson can bring to a role. It will be hard to walk away unaffected.

Highly Recommended.

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