The only way this film gets better is if it’s called “Liam Neeson likes to kill people.”
Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com
Director: Pierre Morel
Notable Cast: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkeley, Katie Cassidy
Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is trying to put back together the pieces of the life he once had. He once had a wife (Famke Janssen) and a daughter (Maggie Grace) who were significant parts of his life. Now his wife is no longer his wife, divorcing him and remarried to someone else (Xander Berkeley). His daughter and he get along, but there relationship is a bit strained because he was never there all that much when she was young and now that she’s nearly in college he realizes he has a lot of ground to make up. And while normally this would be the formulaic beginning of a story about a man who learns a life lesson reconnecting with his family, Pierre Morel has other plans as it turns into a top notch action thriller about a man trying to save his kidnapped daughter from kidnappers who intend to sell her into the sex trade.
But the plot is minimal to the story. Considering Morel’s previous work as an auteur was District B13, an action film that was more about style than substance, the film is a sheer action thriller stripped down to nothing but the essentials. This is a film about a man with deadly talents who intends to fully use them to find his daughter, or die trying, and the film sticks to the formula pretty relentlessly. There’s nothing incredibly new or original to be found in the film, which is a standard “rescue the girl, kill the bad guys” action thriller that has been done and done well over the years. It’s in the buildup to the action where Morel works some cinematic magic.
The film’s first act, which ends with the kidnapping, is very methodical in its pace. Once the exposition ends and the action begins there’s no more room for character and plot development. Morel takes what are perfunctory scenes about a fractured family and develops them quite well. We can see both sides of the equation; there’s justification in the hurt from all sides. This is a significantly better cast acting wise than he had in his previous work as a director and it shows. It’s a slow build until the big starting point to the action; there are the beginnings of a film that could’ve gone straight into the relationship that would’ve worked as a drama but effectively set up the action. Morel is working off a Luc Besson script, which helps, but he shows the eye of a good director in terms of both his setup and in the film’s execution.
It doesn’t hurt that he has a significantly underrated actor in Neeson in the title role. Able to be both a villain and a protagonist, Neeson gives a standout performance in an otherwise genre film. It isn’t a terrific performance comparable to his past work by any means; it’s significant because it’s good for a genre film. Bryan is the hero but Neeson makes him likable and dangerous. It’s in the subtle things he does where the character’s true danger lurks and Neeson understands that. There’s a feeling that this is how Jason Bourne would handle things in middle age and Neeson underplays things significantly. It’s cool and calculated, much like how the character should act, as opposed to flamboyant and over the top like it could be played. Bryan is a killer who’s been there, done that, and there’s a look in his eyes that shows that he’s completely comfortable with the unsavory aspects of what he’s done. He’s not a sociopath and enjoys it, but he doesn’t harbor any feelings of guilt or doubt about hurting and/or killing people.
Morel’s main focus is on the action and, much like District B13, he opts for a flamboyantly over the top style. Most of the film’s action is a bit ludicrous, from Bryan’s ability to destroy rooms full of armed guards without a scratch, but in a genre like this it’s to be expected. Morel does it in a way that still allows one to think Bryan might get hurt or die at some point despite us knowing he probably is going to save the day. With a lot of quick edits and some hand camera work he keeps it fresh as well; there’s just enough out of the ordinary steady cam work to keep it feeling unique.
Taken may not be original in any aspect, but it’s a visceral thrill ride of a film. Liam Neeson seems to be having an excessive amount of fun and the film is just that: fun. It’s a genre film that doesn’t take itself seriously but doesn’t insult it’s viewer, which is a rarity.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: Famke Janssen, Liam Neeson, luc besson, Maggie Grace, Taken