Much of the fun of 2008s Taken was watching beloved thespian Liam Neeson go all Chuck Norris in a dirty little Euro trash thriller.
In the action adventure movie Neeson played a former “preventer” for the US government. A specialist in black ops, he was an undercover agent who contained volatile situations before they got out of control. Retired, he lived in Los Angeles near his estranged seventeen-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). When she is kidnapped by a child slavery ring he has only 96 hours to use his “particular set of skills” to get her back. His rescue mission takes him on a wild rampage through the soft underbelly of Paris. “I’ll tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to,” he says.
It’s a down-and-dirty little flick, classed up somewhat by the presence of Neeson in the lead role and it became an unexpected lightening-in-a-bottle hit. It also redefined Neeson’s recent career.
At an age when many actors are staring down the barrel of character parts and cameos, the sixty-one year old has made an unlikely U-turn into action movies. “I was a tiny bit embarrassed by it, “ he says of Taken, “but then people started sending me action scripts.”
Arguably best known for his Best Actor Oscar nomination as the charismatic but humble German businessman Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, the Irish actor has fully embraced his new career path. Vanity Fair even acknowledged the twist in an article called, “Wham! Bam! Thank You, Liam!”
His latest actioner is Non-Stop, a high-flying thriller that takes place on an international crossing from New York to London. Neeson is an air marshal who must prevent a crazed killer from murdering passengers in flight.
The actor’s rebirth as a gun-toting, neck snapping gravel-voiced Stallonite™—aging action star—works not only because he has the physical presence to be taken seriously as a hard man, but also because he has the acting chops to make us believe him as a ruthless and efficient killing machine.
Taken and Taken 2 (which were essentially the same movie) worked not just because the action sequences were out of control, but because audiences had some empathy for Neeson’s character as he kicked butt across Europe. It was a personal mission; he was trying to get his daughter back.
Action movies like Wrath of the Titans, The Grey and Unknown may not burnish Neeson’s rep as a great thespian, but when asked why he keeps making them, he has a solid reason: “Because they’re dumb enough to offer them to me!”
I think much of the fun of 2008s “Taken” was seeing beloved thespian Liam Neeson go all Chick Norris in a dirty little Euro trash thriller. It was unexpected and it was fun. Unfortunately, the sequel doesn’t have that same gritty magic. It’s silly, talky, and with a director with the last name Megaton (first name, Olivier), I expected some heavy action, but it didn’t deliver.
Picking up where the last movie left off, the sequel sees an Albanian mafia head (Rade Sherbedgia) vowing revenge against the man who killed his son, Bryan Mills’ (Neeson). Set in Istanbul, where the Mills family—daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) who was kidnapped in Paris and almost sold into prostitution in the last film, and her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen)—is trying to enjoy a quiet holiday. When Bryan and Lenore are taken by the mob, Kim must work to free them, with the assistance of her ex-CIA father’s “very particular set of skills.”
When you lay down your money to see a movie in the “Taken” family you expect to be surprised. Last time out it was startling to see Neeson as a full-on action hero as he got physical with hundreds of foes. This time they could have kept thing fresh by expanding the daughter’s role and turning her into a super spy. We get a taste of that, and despite some very dubious spy advice from her dad (“Go to the window, pull the plug on a grenade and throw it.”), we just get more of the same, only less, if you get what I mean.
Before we even get to the reason we paid to see the flick—Neeson’s grimacing and chest beating—there’s thirty minutes of budding romance, family drama and some very lame attempts at character development. All well and good for a different movie, but “Taken 2” isn’t that movie. It should be a relentless, labyrinthine adventure with an exotic backdrop but instead it feels direct-to-video generic.
In this weekend’s Taken 2, Liam Neeson tells his daughter that he will do, “what I do best,” which, apparently, is wallop bad guys, grimace and leave a trail of destruction a mile wide. He plays a retired CIA agent with a “particular set of skills” who will do anything to protect his family.
Neeson’s habit of paying the rent with chest-beaters like Battleship, Unknown and The A-Team led one macho movie fan to post on Facebook some conclusions.
“After watching the movie The Grey, I can only come to the (very logical) conclusion that Liam Neeson should be King of the Earth. Who’s better than Liam Neeson? Nobody. That’s who. Nobody.”
His burly build and steely glare have made the 60-year-old an action star.
“Believe it or not, I have even had Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis calling my agent saying, ‘How do I get these scripts?,’” he said.
But there was a time when a kinder, gentler Neeson ruled the screen.
His first film, 1977s Pilgrim’s Progress, was so low budget he played several characters. He’s credited as the Evangelist, a main character in John Bunyan’s Christian allegory, but can also be seen subbing in as the crucified Jesus Christ.
It was another supporting role in a movie called Shining Through that led to his breakthrough. In it he plays a Nazi party official opposite Michael Douglas. The performance so impressed Steven Spielberg he cast Neeson as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, which turned him into an Oscar-nominated star.
He parlayed that fame into starring roles in period pieces like Rob Roy, Michael Collins (at the age of 43 Neeson was 12 years older than the real-life Michael Collins when he died) and Les Misérables. Then comedies Breakfast on Pluto and High Spirits also showcased his more amiable side.
High on the list of his mild-mannered roles are two films with Laura Linney. He’s worked with her so often on stage and in the movies they joke they feel like “an old married couple.” They’re part of the ensemble cast of Love Actually and play husband and wife in Kinsey, about America’s leading sexologist Alfred Kinsey.
Neeson, as we can see, can portray almost anything on screen, but even he was surprised by the success of Taken, his first action hit.