A riveting slam-bang action flick, Taken is the kind of movie you might expect to see from a Bruce Willis or Jet Li. But no, here’s Liam Neeson, Mr. Oskar Schindler, in brutal hand-to-hand combat, dispensing of a countless number of bad guys and kicking all kinds of ass.
It’s inspired casting that lends some credence to this otherwise routine thriller, a French production directed by Pierre Morel and produced and co-written by Luc Besson. Riveting most of the way and drawn from the same pool as Besson-produced actioners like District 13, Kiss of the Dragon and Danny the Dog (the latter two Jet Li vehicles).
Neeson stars as retired CIA agent Bryan, estranged from ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who now live with Lenore’s current husband, wealthy businessman Stuart (Xander Berkeley).
Kim wants to take a summer trip to Paris with friend Amanda, but as a 17-year-old minor she needs consent from her father. After some conniving, Bryan reluctantly agrees.
Of course, the minute they’re off the plane, Kim and Amanda are targeted by slave traders in Paris. A frenzied phone call with Bryan moments before they’re abducted sends Dad into action to save his daughter from the sex trade.
With the aid of his ex-CIA buddies and Stuart’s connections, Bryan learns his daughter’s kidnappers are Albanian Mafia, and immediately boards a plane to Paris.
Once there, we’re treated to one long chase sequence that takes hold and never lets up as he works his way up the sex trade food chain. This is no-holds-barred stuff, with Bryan tearing up the streets of Paris, killing in cold blood, and shooting innocent civilians – everything he needs to do to get his daughter back, and fast.
It’s believable from the word go thanks to Neeson’s grounded performance; only some climatic scenes involving the Hostel II-like bidding for young women, and the elite customers who buy them, ring false.
Acting takes a backseat to action, and outside of Neeson’s convincing hero we’re left with few characters to care about, one way or the other; in particular, film lacks that especially nasty baddie who we want to get what’s coming to them. Also: Grace feels far too old to be playing the 17-year-old daughter.
Director Morel keeps everything moving at a lightning clip, fast enough that we don’t have time to consider plot implausibilities or question Bryan’s actions.
Cinematography drenches everything in blues, recalling Paul Greengrass’ last two Bourne films; in fact, some have dubbed this The Bourne Retirement.