Taken first came to my attention several months ago when I saw the trailer. All it took was the directness of Liam Neeson’s speech, delivered over the phone to his daughter’s kidnappers, and I was utterly devoted to seeing the film at the first opportunity. It is as follows (and still makes me shudder):
“I don’t know you who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for a ransom, I can tell you, I don’t have money. But what I do have is a very particular set of skills, acquired over a very long career in the shadows. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that will 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.”
Just those few words had me so very excited and perfectly express the film’s concept, while proving absolutely true when the character of Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), who makes good on them after the kidnappers bait him to try. I adore almost any film that contains one man on a personal crusade; from Point Blank and Mad Max to Man on Fire, I find the beauty of them comes from the sheer simplicity of the main protagonist’s righteousness in seeking justice by any means necessary. My main concern about Taken was that, having put everything in place for such a film, it wouldn’t be able to live up to my own expectations. But I couldn’t have asked for more…
Taken is a film without a single ounce of fat on its bones, especially since it runs at a sleek 94 minutes (a trend I really hope will become fashionable again). It quickly establishes Mill’s status as a retired government “preventer” (who aptly demonstrates his skills early on when an attempt is made on the life of one Holly Valance at a pop concert), a man who wishes only to spend more time with his slightly estranged daughter Kim (played by Lost’s Maggie Grace). Taken depicts Mills as sympathetic, despite his open paranoia, as he attempts to re-establish a bond with his daughter at any cost, even if it goes against his better judgement. Kim is then kidnapped while on the phone to her father, who calmly talks her through what she must do to give him the best chance of finding her, and even after the event his calmness remains. My god does it remain. Mills immediately sets out to find her and before long has killed, punched and driven his way through a whole lot of bad guys without once giving a hint at remorse. At one point things take a turn for the worse as he uncovers more about the group responsible for his daughter’s abduction, and here I expected a release of pent up rage, an explosion of violence perhaps – but Mill’s immediate reaction is in fact cool, calm, torture.
Now if alarm bells start ringing about the recent spate of torture in movies (which has proved to be quite a hot topic here at Geek) then rest assured that the torture, like so much of the violence in Taken, is harsh but depicted in a mostly bloodless fashion. Taken most closely resembles Craig’s Casino Royale and the Bourne Trilogy (all of which I love); it has the same feel to the fight scenes and the car chases, as well as lines from Mills which made me laugh and cheer in their throw-away capacity, but which I imagine a lot of people will fail to be won over by as he dispatches yet another henchman. The fight scenes manage to be consistently exciting as Mills continues his quest with eye-opening audacity, I really can’t emphasise how much I bounced my way through the film as he continued to shock and delight me in every scene, demonstrating that anyone associated with Kim’s kidnapping is guilty by association in his eyes and therefore expendable (all I can say is be wary of asking him round for dinner when his daughter’s missing!).
Stylistically Taken has much in common with the films mentioned above, but unlike Bourne (and much to my absolute delight) is shot without the now mandatory shaky cam, making the action seem almost fresh in its approach and much more impactful when so many of the shots and blows aren’t pulled away from in the edit faster than you can blink. Action really should be something to savour and that is Taken’s greatest strength. The villains being pursued are all very much in the Bond/comic book tradition, existing merely to add to the body count as they sneer in their one dimensional (and slightly outdated ethnically stereotypical) fashion at Neeson, before he breaks their faces. Also worth noting is how similar the music is to that of John Powell’s scores from the Bourne movies and the CSI style of seeing a previous crime scene re-enacted before Mills’ eyes as he pieces together the clues, again reinforcing Taken’s seeming influences.
The other key asset in the film is Liam Neeson. I delighted in babbling months ago about the potential of a film that my brain had tagged as ‘Qui-Gon Jinn on Fire!’ and while several people expressed their concerns to me about Neeson playing a lethal action hero, being so used to him playing such nice characters, I had only to point them in the direction of Darkman to remind them of his potential for insane vengeance. Indeed despite his geek credentials from Darkman, I’d also argue heavily that he still remains the only real source of heart and soul in The Phantom Menace, with a certain sadness in his eyes which can easily be turned to coldness; add to that Neeson’s conviction in his performance and what you have in Taken is a Jedi with a gun. And if that doesn’t sound appealing, then there is no more I can say to entice you to this movie.
It obviously won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re after a slick, no nonsense action movie, with the physically imposing Neeson cutting his own path through the morally corrupt, then I can’t recommend this more.
Taken goes on UK release on Friday.