Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Most action movies, and in fact most mainstream movies, act as vehicles to test out Murphy’s Law, which loosely states: anything that can go wrong will go wrong. The idea is to have everything go wrong and then have a hero come in to fix everything. It makes sense because if things didn’t go wrong then there would be no conflict needing resolution and we’d have no movies. Liam Neeson’s new movie, Taken, really runs with Murphy’s Law. It does more that that, actually. Taken sees Murphy, raises him and then proceeds to kick his ass.

Taken stars Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent and general badass. Mills has moved to LA in order to live near his daughter, Kim. She is living with her mother, played by Famke Janssen, who is now married to a ridiculously rich man named Stuart, played by Xander Berkley. Mills is constantly one-upped in wild fashion by the other father in Kim’s life: Bryan buys his daughter a karaoke machine for her birthday while Stuart buys her a horse. He buys her a horse. This is that kind of movie.

In between this introduction and the main plot of the movie Mills gets to play security guard for a famous pop star. Usually nothing serious happens at these shows, but given this is a movie, and given Murphy’s Law, it cannot be that simple. It leads to a nice bout of kick-assery in which Mills saves the day and wins the respect of the young starlet. It’s also a nice indication of where this movie is headed in terms of the action element.

In trying to rebuild his strained relationship with his daughter Bryan agrees to allow her to travel to Paris with her stock blonde friend (here named Amanda.) He gives Kim explicit instructions on calling him when she lands and every night before she goes to sleep in an effort to make sure she will be safe. Of course, again, this is a movie: Kim will not be safe. Murphy simply cannot be denied. When Bryan finally reaches her on the phone in Paris she is already at an apartment and soon begins to witness Amanda being taken by kidnappers. This is where the film really takes off. Bryan, in his amazingly stern voice, gives her instructions to go hide under a bed. Once there we are treated to one of the most suspenseful single minutes I’ve sat through in a theatre. The scene is in the trailer, but it is still extremely effective in the film. He tells Kim point-blank that she will be taken and that he will be coming to rescue her. And when Bryan Mills, ex-CIA, says he’s going to rescue his daughter he damn well means it.

It all leads to a film in which Liam Neeson uses his CIA training, know-how and contacts to expose a nasty ring of Albanian human trafficking, while also killing, maiming and destroying just about everything in his path. Allow me to be frank: there is nothing particularly intelligent about this film. It is mindless entertainment, but nothing really beats well-made mindless entertainment. The action is great here. It’s shot in that shaky-cam Bourne style, but like the better sequences in the Bourne movies the action is still exciting and provides a nice adrenaline rush. There’s also something extremely satisfying in seeing Liam Neeson killing everyone involved in this horrible crime. It’s the kind of criminality that is so vile and putrid that I doubt the audience would have any qualms about the way Bryan Mills serves justice to those who take part in it.

Liam Neeson is really the piece of the puzzle holding this film together. He brings a collected calm and cool, with a serious level of anger buried under the surface. I would actually love to see the Bryan Mills character in more films, though the plot of this one isn’t necessarily open for a sequel. Pierre Morel who was also responsible for the equally adrenaline-pumping District B13 directs the film, and he directs it with confidence and style. Except for the excess of setting up the plot at the beginning of the film there is little other than forward momentum once the main plot gets rolling. Nothing distracts Mills from his mission, and nothing in the film distracts the audience from it either. The film was also produced and co-written by director Luc Besson. Besson is best known for directing La Femme Nikita and Léon, as well as writing the Transporter series of movies. Taken seems to find some middle ground between those two extremes. It has a lot of the gritty realism of Nikita and Léon, while never having shame in its ridiculous over-the-top nature also seen in The Transporter.

The truth is, this film is nowhere near as smart as the Bourne series to which it has been endlessly compared. Luckily it’s made well enough and features a fantastic performance from its action hero lead. From beginning to end I had fun with Taken and that’s really all I could ask from it. It also proves that Liam Neeson, who was at one point up for a role as the new James Bond, easily has more chops for that kind of character than Daniel Craig. And now I’m left to imagine how much better Quatum of Solace might have been if Neeson had been the star. We’ll never know, but at least we have Taken, which provides a much needed thrill-ride for this dull movie season.

The ball's in your court, Murphy.

1 comment:

  1. While I'm not sure Neeson's character is really serving 'justice', I did enjoy him kicking ass for the better part of the film. Once the action begins, the movie movies along at such a rapid pace and only let's go at the very end. A fun diversion.