Sunday, March 25, 2012

100 Movies - No. 86: Taken

86. Taken (2008)
Action, Crime, Thriller, 93 minutes
Directed by Pierre Morel
Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Olivier Labourdin and Famke Janssen

I'm not a big fan of action movies. They tend to focus on violence and killing as many people as possible in the most original ways, but a select few have more depth. Taken falls into the latter category.

Why is it so good?

If you had told me that a 56-year-old actor would make one of the best action movies I've ever seen, I would have laughed and thought how bad Roger Moore's version of James Bond was in A View to a Kill and Octopussy. Action movies often feature actors who look the part, but who can't really act. Arnold Schwarzenegger springs to mind. Liam Neeson changes all that with this one performance. He doesn't look like he could take on the world, but his acting ability is so good that he convinces you that he's capable of everything he does in the movie.

Bryan Mills (Neeson) used to work for the government as a CIA operative. He still associates with friends from his previous job, but he's given up that career in an attempt to get closer to his daughter, Kim (Grace). She lives with his ex-wife, Lenore (Janssen), and her rich stepfather. When Mills takes Kim a thoughtful gift on her seventeenth birthday, her stepfather gives her a horse. Mills doesn't seem to have a chance of winning her respect. What's more, Lenore apparently hates him.

Mills is given another chance to make a connection with Kim when she asks him to sign a consent form so that she can leave the country for a vacation. As she's 17, she needs the permission of both parents. Mills isn't happy about the idea. He's seen a lot of criminal activity in his former line of work and understands the dangers involved. Is he just being paranoid? His dire warnings seem exaggerated, but we soon see that they are justified.

Kim goes to Paris with her 19-year-old friend and trusts everyone she meets. The day she arrives, an Albanian gang take her and her friend captive. We learn that they intend to control her through drugs and turn her into a prostitute, or perhaps even sell her to a willing buyer.

Perhaps the best moment in the movie is when Mills talks to Kim's captor on her phone:

"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."

He says it with absolute conviction.

I won't give away any more of the story. That setup takes around 25 minutes. If I have done a good job, perhaps you can understand why Taken is different. Mills is real. We understand his motives for giving up his job. When Kim is taken, we start to see some of the skills he claims to possess.

If she was your daughter, how would you react? What if you had the requisite skills to seek her out yourself? Is there anything you wouldn't do to save her?

Director Pierre Morel doesn't waste a single minute. At 93 minutes, the movie is lean and the action rarely allows us time to breathe once Mills kicks into action. He's a relentless killing machine, but, unlike most action heroes, his abilities seem authentic. To make things seem even more urgent, we experience everything from his point of view. Expect to see plenty of fast cuts during chase scenes, just as you would in The Bourne Trilogy.

It's easy to root for Mills because of the strong characterization. Neeson excels in this role and carries the movie throughout. I wonder if we'll start to see other good actors cast in action roles as a result? Taken is an enjoyable thrill ride with almost endless replay value.

If you like Taken:

Neeson reprises his role as Bryan Mills in Taken 2 and the writing team of Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen will again be involved. It's due to be released on October 5, 2012 in North America.

Neeson starred in Unknown in 2011. While it was marketed as an action movie, it's a more balanced mix of action and mystery. Although the pace is slower, Neeson fans will be happy with the story.

One final suggestion is Man on Fire starring Denzel Washington. He plays an ex-CIA operative and takes on the task of protecting a young girl. Does that sound familiar? The pacing is much slower than that found in Taken, but Washington gives an excellent performance.

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  1. Great review :) Another movie that I need to see. I watched Unknown last year and thought it was good. Taken sounds better.

  2. Thanks Fernando. Taken is definitely the better action movie. There's very little of the mystery that you saw in Unknown.