Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
France! This week’s entry may not look look like a French film, but the movie bible (IMDB) says it is, so it is. It’s produced by a French man, directed by a French man, and released by a French production company. It’s also filmed in English and is being released in the US one year after it’s worldwide release.
Taken stars Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, an ex-agent from some unnamed government organization, with an ex-wife and a daughter he rarely gets to see. To remedy this, Mills has left the agency and moved to LA to be closer to her. He pays the bills by working celebrity and executive security details, and still hangs out with some of his agency friends. His daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), receives an invite to spend the summer in Paris and Mills is hesitant to approve. His past employment has left him suspicious of the outside world, but he also wants to keep her home so the two can bond and make up for lost time. He warns Kim of the dangers (then warns her again and again… we get it, the world is scary place) but reluctantly says yes. Of course his worries come true and Kim is abducted mere hours after landing in Paris, so Mills jets off to take in the sights, kill some bad guys, and save his daughter. This is a what a Bourne or Bond movie would look like if either of those characters were allowed to age into their fifties.
All you really need to know is the film was co-written and produced by Luc Besson who’s made a successful career out of creating solid but lightweight action films like the Transporter series, the Taxi series, and some of Jet Li’s best Western film work including Kiss of the Dragon and Unleashed. Put Pierre Morel (District 13) in the director’s chair, and you know going in the movie will feature a bare bones, no-nonsense plot, and plenty of highly implausible but fun action.
And Taken is definitely implausible. The setup takes a mere twenty-five minutes but once the girls are kidnapped the action kicks into high gear and never really lets up. Mills identifies one of the bad guys almost immediately, flies off to Paris, and basically waltzes through the human traffickers like they were so much pudding. He gets very little resistance from them or the French authorities even as he tears a bloody and explosive swath through the city of love. It all seems a bit too easy and lacking in threat or suspense, but goddamn if it isn’t shitloads of fun.
If you can get past these improbabilities, the film is well worth a viewing for the action and for Neeson’s powerful performance. One of the best scenes in the movie is the abduction that occurs while Kim is on the phone with her father. The trailer below hints at it, but it’s a truly impressive scene. Mills’ instructions to his daughter are a pleasant and unusual surprise and Neeson’s face as his daughter screams through the phone shows visible pain and suppressed rage. The tension that ensues as the kidnapper picks up the phone and Mills delivers his promise is also fantastic. The supporting cast includes the aforementioned twenty-five tear-old Grace playing an eighteen year-old (and doing it pretty damn poorly), Famke Janssen in the thankless role of bitchy ex-wife, and the wonderful Leland Orser as one of Mills’ agent buddies.
Watching Liam Neeson kick ass in Taken makes you wonder why he hasn’t played more action-oriented tough guys. He’s always been an imposing figure, due both to his size as well as his Irish boxer’s mug. He looks capable of the severe beat-downs his character delivers, and his Bourne-like hand-to-hand combat is as believable as Matt Damon’s. And Mills gets plenty of opportunities to use it. He easily kills or injures half the population of Paris over the course of two days. Add a couple impressive car chases and Taken becomes a solid and very entertaining guilty pleasure.
Some have found fault with the light nature of a film ostensibly about the vile sex trafficking industry, but that’s an obtuse charge in the face of such an obviously action-oriented movie. Mills narrow quest is actually part of the character’s appeal. He’s not looking to bring down an entire organization or rescue others caught up in this travesty, he’s just looking for his daughter. Viewers looking for a more serious and sobering take on human trafficking should check out the excellent Trade, a recent film starring Kevin Kline that provides a more personal and in depth excursion into this particular hell.
Taken releases on January 30th, 2009. Check out the trailer.
The Upside: Bourne-like fisticuffs and action; Liam Neeson is believable as both a killing machine and a concerned father willing to do whatever’s necessary; fun, enjoyable action
The Downside: Highly implausible at times; Neeson’s character seemed unstoppable and never appeared vulnerable; Maggie Grace should only play characters her own age