Kevin's Review: Taken - Not Bourne or Bond, But Still Badass
by Kevin Powers
January 30, 2009
Proving he's not a one-hit badass, Liam Neeson leverages the fisticuffs he picked up as Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins to beat the sense out of some Algerian thugs who have kidnapped his daughter in Pierre Morel's Taken. Clean-cut and unassuming, Neeson's Bryan Mills is inescapably reminiscent of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne. But anyone hoping for the next sensible spy tale to follow that ground-breaking trilogy should probably continue to hold their breath. Taken is admirably in-your-face, satisfyingly (if not surprisingly) blunt and lensed like the best of them, but it lacks in the nuance and depth that might turn it into a genre mainstay. Nevertheless, Neeson has clearly broken the mold for ass-kicking fathers.
Estranged from his wife and daughter as a result of years spent in the CIA as a "preventer", Bryan Mills (Neeson) is trying to make up for lost time when the movie opens. He doesn't see his work buddies much anymore, opting instead to dote on this daughter, such as meticulously studying a karaoke machine he intends to give her as a gift for her 17th birthday. You wouldn't think his daughter is 17, though, since Maggie Grace, in an attempt to come off as younger than her 25 years of age, overshoots, and plays Kim more as a goofy 13-year-old. Her awkward running around and elation over a pony for her birthday is one of the film's weaker renderings; that, and the uber-bitchiness exuded by Famke Janssen as her mother. Thankfully, since Kim has been absconded and is held in secret, we don't have to stomach her for long.
Kim and her best friend Amanda, through lies and suck-upage, manage to get permission to head to Paris for a European vacation, sans supervision. The cockiness and deceit the two dole out doesn't exactly elicit a lot of sympathy for the pair. Witnessing Amanda's obnoxious dancing interrupted by burly intruders, Kim frantically listens to her father's advice over the phone, culminating in an ominous declaration, "Now they're going to take you." It's the most chilling moment of the film, and one that solidly shifts the pace up a few gears into a hair-blowing 90mph from there on out.
But the swift speed plays for and against Taken. While avoiding stalling is favorable to Mills in finding the next bad guy and kicking kidnapper ass, you do sometimes wonder how the discovery went so quickly. Mills manages to uncover a complex web of political corruption and high-end sex slavery in shorter time than a "Law and Order" episode. If the film had taken (pun intended) a bit more time in surfacing the smaller details, we could have been privy to a much richer experience.
Even though it's lean on brains, Taken has plenty of brawn. Neeson is quite possibly the deadliest retiree on screen. More often than not, he relies on hand-to-hand combat, which of course affords him major ass-kicker points. In the instances when he uses a gun, director Pierre Morel thankfully takes a cue from the real world and only allows him so many bullets. It wouldn't be much of challenge, after all, if Mills had unlimited ammo. But in the times he uses a gun, Mills means it. Like in one rather shocking instance that manifests the cold, forceful loyalty he has as a father and damn near anything that gets in his way.
Taken may not be as sexy or studied a film as anything Bond or Bourne, respectively, but the capable and cheer-worthy character that Liam Neeson has created should rightfully have a seat alongside those great spies. The growing question then becomes -- who would win in a fight between the three of them?