(No longer in theaters)
Luc Besson, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, India Osborne
20th Century Fox
Jan 30, 2009
In Taken, Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex–Jason Bourne–like spook who wants to make amends for being an absent dad to his 17-year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), so he whines and pleads with his chilly ex (Famke Janssen) not to let her travel to Paris with her rich girlfriend. It’s a bad world out there, he insists—a bad, bad world. You don’t know. I know. Believe me. I’ve seen things. You don’t want to know. Dismissing him as a hysteric, Kim jets to France and is promptly—I mean, she doesn’t get to pee—snatched by Albanian sex-slavers for sale to sheikhs and sundry other wealthy sadists. This is where Dad gets to prove that he can karate-chop the windpipe of one Albanian while taking out three more with a paper clip, a wad of gum, and a hard stare. (I exaggerate, but not by much.)
The script, by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, panders to macho American wet dreams that feel distinctly antiquated in the new age of American non-exceptionalism. And in a just universe, the idea that rich white American virgins are the prime targets of sex-slavers would make tens of thousands of captive underage Asian girls rise up shouting, “That is the last straw!” I would leave it there except that Taken—in the hands of director Pierre Morel (District B13), with Neeson in nearly every shot—works like gangbusters. The Frenchies have made the filet mignon of meathead vigilante movies.
Morel stages the action so cleanly that even when it hurtles by fast—almost too fast for the naked eye—the killings have a satisfying snap. There’s no fussy slo-mo, no vulgar splatter, just blasts, breaking bones, and baddies who barely hit the floor before the hero has moved on to the next Albanian wave. But it’s the big, dolorous Neeson who makes the movie a keeper. He does not gloat, he does not preen. But neither is he a blank terminator. His motivation is clear: He wants his daughter back. (What’s your motivation, Liam? I want my daughter back.) As he gives instructions over the phone to Kim, cowering under a bed as Albanian footsteps approach, his focus is uncanny. He is stripped down to pure, righteous, patriarchal American genius.