Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen and Olivier Rabourdin
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Runtime: 93 mins. Reviewed in Aug 2008
Brutally violent, with a body count to rival a small war, Taken is also a visceral, efficient thriller that unfolds at a rattling pace and packs an awful lot into its 93 minutes. If sometimes it cuts corners in the plot department, its pace and command of action are persuasive compensations. Some people may find its violence repugnant, but if you can accept it as an accurate reflection of the ruthlessness of some criminal elements and methods sometimes required to deal with them, you should find yourself glued to your seat.
Its tone is reminiscent of Mike Hodges’ highly regarded, tough1971 gangster movie Get Carter, not least because the violent reprisals by the central character in each are triggered by the debauching of a young girl. In Taken, Bryan (Liam Neeson) is a retired CIA dirty deeds operative whose 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped soon after arriving in Paris on vacation.
Bryan happens to be talking to Kim on her mobile at the moment the kidnappers strike. In a flash, the old undercover spook habits kick in and he is recording the phone call for later analysis. From the phone tape and from talking to an old CIA contact in Paris (Olivier Rabourdin) he learns that Kim has been the random victim of a gang of criminals who prey on attractive young women travelling alone, injecting them with drugs and selling them into what used to be called euphemistically “the white slave trade’. Based on the gang’s usual procedures, he has 96 hours to get from Los Angeles to Paris and find his daughter before she is auctioned off to one of the gang’s wealthy clients.
The early part of the screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (collaborators on 1997’s The Fifth Element) is at pains to establish that Bryan struggles to maintain a close relationship with his daughter. His ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) is bitter about their marriage breakdown and interposes between father and daughter. What is more, Lenore’s new husband is filthy rich and showers his step-daughter with gifts that Bryan cannot match. Bryan’s repressed anger at this situation is crucial to motivating his behaviour in ruthlessly pursuing the gang and its high-society clientele and dispatching them one by one to save his girl.
The film is about high-speed car chases and high-powered fight scenes, and it does them well, and Neeson is credible as a vengeful father. His character is remarkably adept at doing everything (hot-wiring a car in the blink of an eye, administering intravenous medication) and his quest is made easier by the inability of his foes to shoot accurately even with automatic weapons, but let’s not allow nit-picking to spoil the ride.
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