In Taken, the new action adventure movie from Transporter scribe Luc Besson, Liam Neeson plays Brian Mills 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. Now retired, he lives in Los Angeles to be near his estranged seventeen-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). When she is kidnapped by an Albanian child slavery ring—bad guys so tough “even the Russian mob steers clear”—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.
After a slow start devoted to some perfunctory character development
Taken kicks into high gear in about its twentieth minute. The action—and the movie for all intents and purposes—starts as daughter Kim is being kidnapped from her luxury Parisian apartment. It’s a terrifically tense scene as the bad guys break in and trash the place while Kim describes what’s happening to her father via cell phone. It’s this sequence that establishes Mills as someone to be dealt with, not just a sulky retiree who pines for his daughter’s affection. From this point on he’s James Bond with road rage or Jason Bourne without the memory loss. Either way he’s the best action hero to come along in some time.
For the remainder of its 94 minute running time Taken generally follows the long established action movie rule of having something or someone blow up or get shot every ten minutes. Neeson, who will soon be seen on-screen playing Abraham Lincoln in the decidedly non-action film, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, is a powerful presence. He’s a good enough actor to make you believe the sentimental stuff about his daughter and physical enough for the action scenes to work. He’s a killing machine, ruthless and efficient, and as a scene near the end of the film demonstrates, probably the most bad ass dinner guest ever.
Some may quibble with Taken’s xenophobia—Russians are ruthless, Muslims are the bad guys, the French are corrupt—which makes episodes of 24 seem warm and fuzzy by comparison, but it really is just a cartoon where good—that’s Neeson—goes against evil—that’s everybody else. Still others may nitpick on the film’s lack of a moral compass. Neeson bludgeons everyone and anyone who gets in his way. On that score it really is just like an episode of Father Knows Best, if Fred McMurray was a trained killer whose daughter had been snatched. It’s a revenge flick where the violence is personal, not for the general good.
Despite some logic gaps and some crazy continuity errors Taken succeeds because of the performance of Liam Neeson and the action, which outweighs the occasionally cheesy situations and dialogue.