Thursday, March 05, 2009

445 - Taken review

“Taken” is the sort of action movie I’d assumed they had stopped making. Not that there aren’t movies about globe-trotting spies who single-handedly outsmart and butcher hordes of bad guys. I just don’t remember the last time one of these movies did it so well, with a focus on straightforward storytelling and effective filmmaking.

Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent with nothing but time on his hands. Living in Los Angeles to spend more time with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), his talents largely go to waste in civilian life. What talents? He was a “preventer,” a job which entails all-encompassing knowledge of intelligence gathering, evasive driving, close quarters combat, gun fighting, torture, and other things I like to pretend that I’m an expert in.

His attempts to bond with his daughter are upstaged by his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and wealthy husband (Xander Berkeley), who bestows the teen with ponies and birthday parties with six-figure price tags. Mills objects when Kim and her friend jet off to Paris, his dissention ignored as everyone else declares it safe. An ultimately nice guy, Mills refrains from saying “I told you so” when Kim and her friend are kidnapped by an Albanian sex-slave ring the first few hours off the plane.

As the trailers have shown, Mills is a particularly nasty enemy to have. Within a couple days of the kidnapping, he has zeroed in on the culprits and has begun the process of killing each one, and fortunately for the audience, there are dozens of people involved. Mills works his way through the Parisian underworld and gets to shoot people of many nationalities while making quite the dent in the sex-slave industry, which must be more of a problem across the Atlantic than it is here. I detected a strangely old-fashioned vibe in the film’s attitude towards sex: compare what happens to Mills’ virginal daughter and her promiscuous friend.

The film is rated PG-13, so I was surprised at the brutality of its hero, who doesn’t just kill in self-defense, but often out of spite. Neeson certainly had a blast playing this role, which sees him as a wrecking machine, but he grants the character enormous levity and invaluable verisimilitude. It’s not easy to simultaneously appear kind and vicious, but he does, and the film is unimaginable without him.

“Taken” is directed by Pierre Morel, who does the unexpected and shoots it as if he were making a thriller instead of a rollercoaster. After the sickening shaky cam massively over-employed in “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Quantum of Solace,” I had assumed that those in the industry had forgotten how much better an action movie is when you can tell what’s going on. Morel strikes a delicate balance, keeping the story interesting even when it slows for plot details, yet engrossing when the bullets and punches fly.

“Taken” is also produced and written by Luc Besson, that French filmmaker responsible for bad action films (“Taxi”), decent action films (“The Transporter,”) and a couple of great ones (“The Fifth Element”). He can add this one to the latter category.

My expectations for these sort of films have nearly bottomed out. But when confronted with an exemplary genre piece like this, it’s a rush.


Christian Toto said...

The early scene in which his daughter is taken captive is brilliant -- simple, direct ... powerful. Maybe my favorite movie moment of 2009 so far.

Mattson Tomlin said...

Very much want to see Taken! Haven't gotten around to it yet, and I'm afraid I might have to wait until DVD at this point.

James said...

Christian: Very effective, as was the vast majority of it. I remember going in thinking that there would be some "Transporter"-style violence and yada yada. I had no idea it would be this really intense thriller where Liam butchers about 30 people! I loved it.

Mattson: Taken is still doing very well at the BO. Word of mouth must be exceptionally strong, here. So unless you've no access to a theater you should have plenty of time to catch it!

Heidi said...

I didn't get around to reviewing this one, but I agree with yours! This is a great movie!!!

A reviewer on NPR hated it. Thought it was horrible, too much violence, too many people from potentiall Muslim countries being killed... I'm not making that up... he was actually very concerned over this.

Anyway, I thought it was great. Everyone who got killed deserved it. This one may not have thrilled the PC set, but I think the "average" American will really enjoy seeing the bad guys get theirs and get it good.