Should I Watch..? 'Taken'
What's the big deal?
Taken is an action thriller film released in 2008 and is the first film of the series of the same name. It stars Liam Neeson as Brian Mills, a former CIA operative who is forced to travel to Europe to locate his kidnapped daughter. Directed by Frenchman Pierre Morel (whose only other directorial film before this was District 13), the film has proved to be hugely influential to contemporary film makers as well as rebranding Neeson as a legitimate action star at the then-age of 56. Written and produced by Luc Besson, the film overcame its budget limitations to become a surprise hit despite some mixed criticism when it was first released. It also spawned a number of sequels in fairly quick succession - Taken 2 in 2012 and Taken 3 in 2014.
What's it about?
Retired CIA operative Brian Mills now makes a living as a bodyguard to pop sensation Sheerah whilst trying to make amends with his daughter Kim, who lives with her mother Lennie and step-father Stuart. Brian reluctantly agrees to let Kim travel to Europe with her friend Amanda although he insists on her calling him when they get there. Sure enough, Kim calls Brian when they arrive at their Parisian apartment but while they are talking, Kim witnesses Amanda being kidnapped.
Quickly following her father's advice, Kim hides in another bedroom while Brian stays on the line. As Kim is discovered and also kidnapped, Brian speaks to the kidnapper who picks up her phone. Issuing a warning to them which goes unheeded, Brian consults his former colleagues in the CIA who warn him that he has 96 hours to rescue her before she'll be lost forever, believing her to be the target for sex worker traffickers. Brian then heads out to Paris to pick up the trail and doesn't care what he has to do to get her back...
Lenore "Lennie" Mills-St. John
Stuart St. John
Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Release Date (UK)
26th September, 2008
What's to like?
Taken is a movie that constantly surprises you. It's a surprise to see one-time Jedi Knight and the regal voice of Aslan play such a determined and brutal character. It's a surprise that a low-budget French action flick can entertain as much as this. And it's a surprise that it holds nothing back - even veteran action movie goers will be shocked and amazed at the level of violence brought to the screen. This is a lot more adult and grown-up than another Besson-scripted action series The Transporter and is all the better for it.
Neeson puts in a fine performance as Mills, whose single-minded quest for vengeance is as deep as this film goes. But Grace's panic during the kidnap itself is horribly believable with the action heard down a phone line instead of shown on screen. The highlight of the picture is undoubtedly the phone conversation between Mills and the kidnapper with Neeson's chilling monologue echoing in the brain long after the film has ended. The action also delivers, with bruising fight scenes and shoot-outs providing much of the movie's second half. I also have to credit the director Morel for keeping the film's energy and pacing spot-on as the action moves ever closer to the truth. Certainly, there are no shortage of action movies set in Paris (thanks, Besson!) but this really is one of the best.
- Neeson only took the role to spend some time in Paris as well as learn martial arts. He thought the film would bomb and go straight-to-video but instead, it became an international smash and revitalised his career
- The style of martial art Neeson uses is called Nagasu Do. It is a hybrid of judo, aikido and jiu jitsu.
- The film made more than 10 times its original budget, grossing some $226 million worldwide. It is also the most profitable entry of the Taken series so far.
What's not to like?
The film is about as deep as a microscope slide - once Mills is in Europe and kicking all kinds of ass, the film seems to take a backwards step and doesn't explain itself as well as it might. The details of Mills' investigation are pretty obscure (I can't remember how he found his way to the kidnappers for the life of me) and the ending, whilst exciting, lacked context because I wasn't entirely sure who these other baddies were.
It is, I'm afraid to say, extremely derivative. Yes, it may push the level of action to new heights (or depths if brutal torture scenes with electrodes aren't your thing) but how many films have you seen that include a car chase through France? The Bourne Identity, Ronin, the French original version of Taxi and The Transporter are four that I've seen and I suspect that there may be many more. It's not a film that has much joy or fun in it - it feels more like a grim warning to US travellers about the dangers of going to Europe for a holiday. Mills is no James Bond, ready with a one-liner after taking the baddies out. He is a proper meanie, with only circumstances making him feel like a good guy.
Should I watch it?
It's not big or clever but like looking up swear words in a dictionary, Taken is low-brow fun for jaded action junkies. Neeson's career received a massive boost after this film which takes no prisoners and doesn't compromise on being a tough, grim and proper action movie. Unlike most, this is a genuinely thrilling and gripping action film that makes the most of its limited resources.
Great For: Liam Neeson, action fans, Republicans
Not So Great For: Americans planning a trip to Europe, Albanians, squeamish viewers
What else should I watch?
There's no doubt that Taken has created a small niche of Europe-based action movies, many of which feature Neeson as their lead. No film is more guilty of this than Unknown which combines the feel of Taken and blends it with a Bourne Identity-style mystery which, sadly, doesn't quite match up to its promise. Slightly better is the ridiculous actioner Non-Stop which again sees Neeson as a professional hard case on a plane trying to locate a bomber holding the flight hostage.
Neeson's new-found fame as a Hollywood hard man hasn't always paid dividends as anyone who witnessed the appalling remake of The A-Team will testify. Written by a half-wit who thinks you are dumber than he is, the film is a shocking mess of mindless action, dull story and pitiful performances.
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© 2015 Benjamin Cox