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My Review Of Taken (or “No, I Still Haven’t Seen Slumdog Millionaire Yet, Dammit!”)

February 1, 2009

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Every now and then, one forgets just how badass Liam Neeson can be in the right role. In Taken, Brian Mills (Neeson) is a former CIA operative who has quit the spy game to be closer to his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). When Kim needs his consent to go on an unsupervised trip to Paris, he’s understandably reluctant. He eventually agrees, only to find his concerns immediately justified, as Kim and her travel mate are kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers once they arrive in Paris. Rather than panic, Mills takes what little information he has, and his “particular set of skills”, and sets out to find his daughter.

While hardly original as far as action dramas go, Taken worked for me. The screenplay, written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, spends the right amount of time establishing Neeson’s character, and his dedication to rebuilding his relationship with his daughter, after being absent for much of her life. Once Kim is taken, the film moves quickly, with Mills stalking the streets of Paris, searching for anyone with information on the sex traffickers who have her. The film doesn’t waste time cutting away from Mills, and it helps to keep the audience focused on what’s at stake. We don’t need to jump back and forth between him and wherever Kim has ended up, as other filmmakers may have done. Through Mills’ eyes, we’re trusted to figure out everything that he’s not immediately privy to. Even the motivations of the villains aren’t important. All you need to know is what Mills knows; these men are scum, and they have his daughter.  

Director Pierre Morrel does an admirable job pacing the film, and has a strong eye when it comes to action and how it should serve the story. Whereas his work on the French action film District B13 was much flashier and stunt-based, his approach on Taken is thankfully more straightforward and intimate, given the story. Mills takes on several opponents with swift and brutal precision, either wounding them severely, or killing them in the quickest, most efficient way possible. It’s frightening to see Mills’ transition from loving dad to cold-blooded assassin, realizing that it’s not a matter of if he loses control, but when. As he says to a former associate, “I’ll tear down the Eiffel Tower if it’s in the way of finding my daughter!”. And it’s the inclusion of Liam Neeson is really what elevates the film. The way he balances the warmth and compassion of a father with the unapologetic intensity of a government operative is exceptional. He’s absolutely menacing throughout the entire film, but we never forget what’s motivating him. 

For  your standard revenge film, Taken is exceptionally well-made. There’s a lot of dramatic tension throughout the film, and the action is satisfying without being overbearing. To say nothing of its message: When your ex-CIA father says you shouldn’t travel to Paris alone, LISTEN TO HIM!!! 

(4 out of 5)

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