It isn't every day that Liam Neeson (2005's "Batman Begins
") is given the chance to headline a major studio picture, but 20th Century Fox was exactly right in placing him front and center in "Taken." A take-no-prisoners thriller that makes up for its leaps in logic by way of Neeson's enticingly meaty and always convincing performance, the film does an efficient job of setting up the character and the world he resides within before all hell breaks loose and he chooses to take matters into his own hands.
Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA agent who has left his profession in order to be closer to his beloved 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). His attempts to reconcile a somewhat estranged relationship are noted but not exactly embraced by salty ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), but try Bryan does. When Kim asks his permission to go on a trip to Paris with friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy), Bryan doesn't think much of a young girl being by herself in a foreign city, but has little choice but to go along with it. It is only after Kim leaves, in fact, before the truth comes out: Kim and Amanda are planning to follow rock band U2 across Europe on their international tour.
The two gals have no sooner landed and started to get settled in the apartment they are staying at when a gang of masked men break in and snatch Amanda away. Kim sees it all go down, and Bryan hears everythinghe is on the phone with her at the timebefore his daughter, too, is ruthlessly kidnapped. Vowing to save Kim and make everyone involved pay for their crimes, Bryan travels overseas and begins using his sleuthing expertise to track them down. His investigation ultimately leads him into the seedy world of sex trafficking.
Brutal by not overwhelmingly graphic, "Taken" shows how helming a PG-13-rated movie for adults without compromising the dark subject matter is done. Prolific cinematographer Pierre Morel (2007's "War
"), making his English-language directing debut, brings a straightforward sense of style and pacing to a story that rarely slows down once it gets going. In turn, the audience is drawn into Bryan's plight to find and save daughter Kim, and may find themselves cheering as he meticulously works his way through the train of bad men involved in her disappearance.
The film barely stops long enough for the viewer to pick its details apart, but some of its uneven writing still shows through. That Amanda and Kim are attacked within thirty minutes of getting off the plane in Paris is difficult to buy into, as is the manipulative but admittedly necessary plot point of Bryan being on the phone with Kim during the invasion. Additionally, Bryan's exploits through Paris as he edges ever closer to Kim seem to come a tad too easily for him, and his arrival at an underground auction just as a drugged-up Kim is being sold off is beyond convenient. The conclusion is relatively neat and tidy, but the viewer has come to care about Bryan enough by this point that its hopeful denouement remains a satisfying one. A better acknowledgment of Amanda's fate, however, would have been appreciated.
Liam Neeson is much of the reason why "Taken" feels as plausible as it does. As Bryan, Neeson keeps things gritty and real as he stays cool and calm on the outside, but is an exploding time bomb on the inside. There is never any doubt that Bryan knows what he is doing, and his frequently extreme actions seem just under the heightened circumstances. As imperiled daughter Kim, Maggie Grace (2005's "The Fog
") is fresh and likable, even as she plays a character whose maturity level is less than that of an average 17-year-old. Famke Janssen (2008's "The Wackness
") is typecast as Bryan's harsh ex-wife Lenore, though she works to soften her up by the end. Finally, Holly Valance makes a lasting impression with little screen time as Sheerah, a pop idol Bryan works security for early in the picture who gives him sage advice and a helping hand.
It is only still January, but "Taken" marks the third non-remake already this year that has taken a title already used in the past. First there was the Biggie Smalls biopic "Notorious
" (no relation to the Alfred Hitchcock suspenser), then there was "The Unborn
" (again, no relation to the 1980s B-movie starring Brooke Adams), and now there's "Taken," which, as far as can be told, has nothing to do with the Steven Spielberg-produced alien miniseries from 2002. Next week there will be a fourth instance of this occurring with the release of "The Uninvited
." In addition to a lack of original ideas, has Hollywood now begun to run out of titles? Its derivative moniker notwithstanding, "Taken" is well-made and more captivating than not. Its intelligenceor, at least, its believabilityis in question, but Liam Neeson is the glue that keeps everything together. He, above all else, is terrific.