Taken [Retro Review]

“I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

The Scoop: 2008 PG-13 Directed by Pierre Morel and starring Liam Neeson and Famke Janssen

Tagline: They took his daughter. He’ll take their lives.

Summary Capsule: EX CIA spook goes on a 90 minute killing spree to get back his kidnapped daughter.

Mike’s Rating: …and you though he was scary in Darkman.

Mike’s Review: Lets be honest here. This movie is a straight-up popcorn muncher action flick with more than a little escapism thrown in for good measure. The plot comes within striking distance of preposterous at times, and the plethora of unbelievable coincidences don’t really hold up to extended scrutiny. Of course if you’re anything like me, you won’t care about any of that while watching this. You’ll be too busy just marveling at how indescribably cool Liam Neeson is as Bryan Mills, an ex CIA operative who in the course of this film kills more men than cancer.

The film opens on Mills buying a karaoke machine for his estranged daughter, Kim. He’s on his way to her 17th birthday being held by her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen) and obscenely wealthy step-father Stuart. Once there we see that Mills’ ex is not exactly happy to have him around, to the point where she actively tries to keep him away from Kim and takes joy in watching Stuart show him up with the gift of a thoroughbred. Mills has retired from the Agency after years of his family coming second. He wants to be in his daughter’s life, but Lenore has her mind made up that it’s too little, too late. When it comes up that Kim wants to take a trip with a friend to Paris and needs Mill’s permission he’s understandably concerned, but looking to score brownie points he gives permission — with the condition that she call him daily. Kim then gets kidnapped, mainly due to her BFF being the single most stupid human being on the face of this or any other world.

A word now about the friend, Amanda. Seriously, every teenage girl in America should watch this movie just to see an example of what you want to do if you just don’t feel as if your vacation abroad will be complete without getting kidnapped and sold into slavery. First she shares a cab with a random stranger. Okay, you’re being thrifty and you think he’s cute. No harm done. Then, she jumps at his invite to a “party” with nary a question or second thought. Fine, parties are fun, you’re in Paris and you don’t want to spend the whole time in your hotel room. Once they get out of the cab, now that the stranger has their address, she proceeds to ask him to pick them up for the aforementioned shindig, and lets him know that they’ll be in the hotel, on the fifth floor, alone, and that the door will probably be unlocked, hinting that he should probably pay them a visit. At this point, it’s fairly obvious that this girl is mentally devoid to the point where it’s almost politically incorrect to make fun of her. I’d like to say that this took me out of the movie because no girl could ever really be this stupid, but… well… never mind.

Since Kim is smart enough to call her dad once she realizes she’s gone traipsing through Europe with a self destructive halfwit, he hears in detail when they inevitably get kidnapped. From there it’s the thrill ride we all came to see. Mills tracks down the kidnappers with an arsenal of skills, contacts and a ruthlessness people rarely see in any protagonist in television or movies outside of Jack Bauer. He’s an unstoppable killing machine with a ticking clock, increasing his sense of desperation the closer he gets to Kim.

Now as I mentioned before, the unbelievability of the plot and over the top nature of the actions scenes would ordinarily relegate this film to the status of ‘brainless explosion flick’, but Liam Neeson’s performance as Mills transcends the genre and takes the whole film with it. Mills as a character on paper is a cardboard cutout of the action hero; outsmarting good and bad guys alike, effortlessly infiltrating gangs of sex-slavers, taking on a room full of dangerous men without so much as a bruise, hitting every target, and coming out ahead in every car chase. In the hands of any other actor it would’ve come off as asinine and laughable, but Neeson is just so spot on in his performance that you’re taken along for the ride and simply accept the reality the film has to offer.

Like I said, this is mainly due to Neeson’s acting, but a few nods have to go to Luc Besson, (Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element). Written and produced (though not directed) by Besson, this is his film, teeming with his usual philosophical violence, fully fleshed out characters and haunting images. Highly recommended.

Al’s Rating: Liam Neeson is all out of bubblegum…

Al’s Review: As a red-blooded American male, I will sit happily through any action movie you throw my way. Shaft, Blade, S.W.A.T., whatever. Sly and Arnold, Van Damme and Seagal, Jason Statham and Vin Diesel—on a rainy Sunday, I’ll take any or all. After watching several dozen of these movies, however, I reached an interesting realization: the hero really doesn’t matter. I mean, yes, they need to look gritty and say things like, “Get off my plane!” but, in the end, he (or she) is really just playing second banana to bad guys. Not even just the big important baddies, either; I’m talking about the street punks with ski masks and bad aim. The success of the movie is going to depend on how much we want to see these guys go splat. If they’re just random nogoodniks who picked the wrong crimelord to roll with, then who really cares? But have them steal your girlfriend and kill your partner one day before retirement? Now we’re talking.

All of which brings me my feel-good movie of the year, Taken. It has a Big Damn Hero, a Big Nasty Villain, and a body count that would make James Bond blush. Our villains du jour are a European slavery ring operating out of Paris, France. Slavers, like Nazis and people who drive in front of me on the highway, have a naturally high splat factor and so we’re perfectly happy to watch a large numbers of them die in the most violent ways possible.

Lucky for us, our Big Damn Hero is Brian Mills, played by Liam Neeson. Brian is a retired U.S. government-issue badass, a “preventer,” he tells his daughter, Kimmy (Maggie Grace). A man who stops bad things from happening. But when Kim is kidnapped on vacation, Brian comes out of retirement to take names and bust skulls until he has her back.

Neeson is great, which is no surprise. He lends a lot of authenticity to the character and credibility to the movie as a whole. Like I said, though, the movie’s not really about Brian Mills—it’s all about the splat factor, which is through the roof. The villains are such slimy, soul-blackened people that not even the script can muster any respect or sympathy for them. There’s no Mr. Big at the top of the food chain. No ringleader. No final showdown. Just thugs. Small time and big time; thugs dressed in tuxedos and thugs behind desks. Street pimps, gang leaders, corrupt officials, and elite multibillionaires—they are all equal in the eyes of a vengeful father. These are disgusting, evil people engaged in a horrifying (and all too real) black market trade. They are the lowest form of life and, as the audience, we are happy to paint the targets on their foreheads ourselves.

The movie is a lean 85 minutes, which is probably a good thing. Plot holes and logical inconsistencies (and there are plenty) disappear under relentless action as Brian takes apart his enemies, like a mix of Dirty Harry and Jack Bauer. There is no thought to this movie, nothing reflective or contemplative. It doesn’t even pretend. This is a movie about predator and prey, and it’s the most fun I’ve had with an action film in ages. They don’t like ‘em like this anymore.

Not pictured: the light at the end of the tunnel he’s about to send you into.

Intermission!

  • The CIA is apparently WAY more on top of things than we’re led to believe.
  • Why exactly did Mills have to scale a wall to get into the girl’s room? Couldn’t he have just entered through a door?
  • Seeing as how Mills always goes in unarmed, it’s convenient how the thugs keep supplying him with weapons.
  • The difference between the weight of a gun that is loaded and one that is not loaded is of extreme importance.
  • Liam Neeson cannot be killed by conventional weaponry.
  • The fighting art primarily used in this movie is Nagasu Do.
  • Former Special Air Service soldier Mick Gould trained Liam Neeson in combat and weapons handling skills to prepare him for the role.

Groovy Quotes

    Bryan: How about this? How about if I go along? You won’t even know I’m there. I’m very good at being invisible.
    Lenore: As you so amply demonstrated for the rest of her life.
    Bryan: I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
    Bryan: That is what happens when you sit behind a desk. You forget things, like the weight in the hand of a gun that’s loaded and one that’s not.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Death Sentence
  • The Bourne Trilogy
  • Commando
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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Al and Heather Judge the Films of 2012 and Reveal Their Total Lack of Standards « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  2. Pingback: Al looks back at the films of 2012 « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  3. Pingback: Al does A Good Day to Die Hard « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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