‘Taken’ *** Movie Review 022109

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The Work = ***
In the world of movies I am often surprised by what actors are underused onscreen. Take Liam Neeson for example, he appears to effortlessly sell dialogue and can virtually carry a movie. In 'Taken' he plays a former operative who gets pulled back into the world of espionage. There are passages of 'Taken' that didn't work for me but Neeson's leading performance and director Pierre Morel's slick direction pulled the film through the rough patches and as I result I can give it a moderate recommendation. If you are a fan of Neeson or the more actiony' side of spy cinema you will probably enjoy 'Taken'.

Perhaps one of the most influential action films in the past 10 years or so is none other than 'The Bourne Identity'. The Doug Liman helmed, Matt Damon spy vehicle, combined slick, lethal, action with a quick pace and some spy film gadgetry to make an enjoyable action ride with suspense and impact but still packaged within the confines of PG-13 cinema. That meant the movie could rake in the business of a wider audience than an R rated film would. That wouldn’t have mattered if the film hadn’t been enjoyable but thankfully, Limon, Damon, and company pulled off a highly enjoyable film that started a franchise.

Not only did ‘The Bourne Identity’ start a franchise but it also rebooted spy, and to some extent action, cinema in general. The ‘James Bond’ film series restarted itself more recently and the tone of the film seemed very similar to that of ‘The Bourne Identity’. Even cheapy’ direct-to-video features are utilizing quick, high-impact action that mimics the choreography of ‘The Bourne Identity’. Now with ‘Taken’, we have a movie that replicated the quick pace and lethal action of ‘The Bourne Identity’ but stands on its own as a revenge oriented action flic’.

Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former badass operative who is now living in semi-retirement. He takes cushion gigs like working security for pop stars and is concerned with only one thing: his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace.) It seems Mills marriage to Kim’s mother Lenore (the lovely Famke Janssen) fell apart some time ago (thanks to his work) and now Mills big concerns are being available for his daughter and being the best father he can. Kim lives a life of privilege thanks to Lenore’s new wealthy husband Stuart (Xander Berkeley.) Naturally, there is some tension and Mills seems to be slowly squeezed out of Kim's life.

Then she gets an offer to go traveling abroad in Europe. Mills wants her at home in the 'States where he can check up on her and make sure she doesn't get into trouble. Everyone else wants her to go and soon Mills gives in because he doesn't want to be the villain of Kim's teenage years. What follows will be details readily available in the trailer for 'Taken' but none the less, consider this your SPOILER WARNING.

Kim gets permission, goes abroad and has tremendously bad luck. She and her friend are kidnapped not long after starting their trip. From the point of the kidnapping on is when the film begins to kick into high gear. Director Morel starts slinging the action and the film becomes a straightforward revenge flic'. This is where Neeson is a real asset. When he has to be menacing he sounds like he means it when has to be worried he makes the audience care. If some of the moments don't work as well as others, he just plows through everything with a grim determination.

Speaking of grim, that is something that separates Mills from some of the other spies at the cinema. He is as bad as he has to be and will not flinch when committing cold blooded murder to get his daughter back. Mills must have been good at his last job because in 'Taken' he plows through a plethora of bad guys that might give Steven Seagal pause. He will do anything (including rather brutal torture) to get his daughter back safe.

Because Neeson is so good at what he does and because the filmmakers avoid showing what a nasty SOB Mills probably was in his past it is easy to empathize with his plight. He is just a hard working single father trying to get his baby back and he took us along for the ride. I sometimes think that getting the audience to care what happens onscreen is half the battle. If you what Dad to get his girl back you will probably stick with the film. You will not find an contemplation on the ambiguity of Mills taking 7,000 lives for the sake of one but you find at least a few scenes where Mills dispatches bad guys with a certain grim style. (MINOR SPOILER WARNING: One scene with Mills in an elevator works especially well on a certain visceral level.)

Anyway, there are maybe a might bit too many lucky coincidences for the plucky Mills and maybe a few too many times that something would break at just the right moment for him to gain the upper hand in battle. Speaking of battle, 'Taken' arrives in American cinemas having been trimmed to keep the content contained within the boundaries of the PG-13 world. I suspect the film, or at least the violence, is a bit more solid in its unedited form. It is a shame that 'Taken' was chopped down but there will hopefully be an unrated, uncut, DVD/ Blu-ray release in the future.

The action gets a bit repetitive and there were times when the bad guys missed a bit too much and the good guy got too many lucky breaks for me but even with all that 'Taken' was still enjoyable overall. I recently saw 'Friday the 13th' and like that film, I would be lying if I said I was bored. Of course, actiony' crime dramas are more to my taste so maybe it is just my personal preference. 'Taken' is a film that in years past would have been a vehicle for someone like Steven Seagal (and the film would have been rated R.) I keep mentioning Seagal and you know what? There are still a few of his earlier films that I enjoy. Here in 'Taken', with Liam Neeson leading the way the film is more engaging than it may have been with a lesser actor. Recommended for fans of the spy/ action cinema, or fans fans of Neeson that want to see him take the lead, (or yes, even fans of 'Above the Law', 'Out For Justice' or 'Under Siege'.)


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