Directed by Pierre Morel
This becomes clear almost immediately, as the first 15 to 20 minutes of the movie is spent introducing Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills, a retired government operative, and establishing his attempt to build a relationship with his estranged 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) with little help from his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). His years working in remote locations as a “preventer” kept him apart from his family, and he’s been trying to make up for it with his teen daughter, while being reminded constantly that “he’s going to lose her.” (That’s what they call “foreshadowing” in the storytelling business.) When Kim has an opportunity to Paris with her friend Amanda, Bryan agrees to let her, under the condition she calls him once she gets there. No sooner does she land, the two young women run afoul of an Albanian sex traffic ring who kidnap visiting tourists who they drug and turn into prostitutes or sell to the highest bidder. Knowing he only has 96 hours to find his daughter before she’s lost in the system, Bryan goes to Paris and starts to use all of his deductive abilities to trace the men responsible and getting his promised revenge on those who would mess with his family.
Granted, to enjoy this ride, you’ll have to work past some necessary suspension of disbelief. You’ll have to accept that the one time where the world’s most over-protective father is scared something might happen to his daughter traveling abroad, it does happen, literally within minutes of her stepping off plane. You’ll also have to accept that this same overprotective father is also the only person with the ability to actually find those responsible for her kidnapping and get her back. Getting past that, you’re prepared for what is a very effective thriller that is quite impressive for how much mileage they get out of what is a fairly simple premise. The main reason the film works is because it takes place in a real setting that gives on the horrifying realization that this stuff really happens in the world. Rather than just setting Mills on a swath through the bad guys, there’s also an interesting secondary character in Mill’s long-time friend Jean Claude (Olivier Rabourdin), a police officer with a desk job who finds himself having to put a stop to his friend’s rampage instead of helping him.
Besson’s long-time collaborator Pierre Morel has come a long way since his directorial debut “District B13,” a cool futuristic action flick which generally suffered from weak dialogue and acting, a problem rectified by the fact Morel is working from a stronger script this time. At the same time, Morel has clearly come into his own as a filmmaker, creating something that has a very different feel from many of Besson’s other recent films.
More importantly, Morrel has found the perfect leading man in Liam Neeson, who brings Bryan Mills to life with the same intensity and gravitas he brings to his serious biopics, delivering every line with a calm, deadpan demeanor that creates more impact when he explodes with quick and violent actions against those who stand against him. The way Neeson exacts vengeance on those involved with his daughter’s kidnapping might make Jason Bourne wince, though all of the action otherwise maintains the realistic feel of the movie with just one fast-paced car chase through a construction site and only a couple Parkour-like jumps as a nod to Morel’s previous film. Though it’s sometimes obvious when it’s a stuntman rather than Neeson himself, that never detracts from one’s enjoyment. Coming from a cinematography background, Morel shoots the film in a gritty realistic way without resorting to Paul Greengrass shaky-cam tricks, always falling back on the impact of Neeson’s performance to provide dramatic explosions rather than taking the literal approach. Even in this softened PG-13 world, some of the violence might seem shocking or gratuitous, though it’s also necessary to understand the urgency of Mills’ mission and get into his headspace at possibly losing his daughter for good.
Maggie Grace is able to pull off the exuberant youthfulness of that role, and the touching nature of this father’s attempt to connect with his daughter probably won’t be too much of a surprise to those familiar with Besson’s earlier work. There are a few moments of overwrought drama from Janssen when she discovers their daughter has been kidnapped, but for the most part, the strong performances create a solid groundwork for the film to work as well as it does.
Thankfully, “Taken” never deteriorates into the sort of mindless entertainment some might readily accept from the genre, instead feeling like a precautionary tale about the very real dangers in the world. Watching Mills’ journey often makes you wonder whether you could go as far as he does in order to find and protect someone you love, and if you’re a teen girl, the movie teaches you the importance of retaining your virginity, so if you’re ever kidnapped, you’ll go for a higher price on the white slavery market.
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