5/18/09

The Grab Bag: Taken (2008)

It does happen every once and while. There are hit movies that are actually worth watching. Better yet, sometimes they are little pictures that sneak under the radar and exceed everyone’s expectations. Tonight’s film is just that. Arriving from the same French production company that gave us gems like Wasabi (2001), Banditas (2006), and Haute tension (2003), comes a film full of action, adventure, and good old fashioned badassary that will leave you smitten or at the least quite….
Taken (2008) starring Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, and Olivier Rabourdin, and Maggie Grace. Directed by Pierre Morel.

A retired CIA agent, Brian Mills (Neeson), now lives in L.A. to be closer to his daughter Kim (Grace) who now lives with his ex-wife (Janssen) and her new husband. When Kim wants to go to France for the summer, Brian is hesitant, but he agrees rather than drive a wedge between himself and his daughter. However when she arrives in Paris, she and her friend are kidnapped by Albanian gangsters who sell young women into slavery. Making use of all his years of training, Brian travels to Paris to find his daughter’s captors and bring her back home.


The Bugg Speaks

A few years back I caught Morel’s first film, District 13 (2004), a semi futuristic cop tale highlighted with use of the sport/martial art Parkour. It was an exciting and flashy film that unfortunately lacked in any kind of heart to draw the viewer in. Thankfully with his second feature, Morel uses his “special set of skills”, as a cinematographer to engage the audience with both the action and the emotion of the film. The camera still swoops and swirls, but there are quiet moments which make the film’s action sequences all the more powerful.

As with his first film, Morel is once again working from a script by Luc Besson, the writer/director behind such classics as Leon: The Professional and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc ( on which Morel served as cinematographer). Besson, who also produced, takes a story that we’ve all heard before, a father perusing his kidnapped daughter, and improves on the formula. Neeson’s CIA agent is a not only the put upon, dejected man we might expect him to be; he’s also a cold, calculated man who will stop at nothing to get his daughter. This includes more than a few scenes where you’re left with a feeling like “did he really do what I think he just did”, and yeah, he did.

Neeson provides a tour de force performance as the father on a mission, and it almost erases Qui-Gon from my mind. (Although I will have to admit my first thought on this film was that it should have been re-titled Qui-Gon-na Get You.) Not only does he pack the performance with moments of emotion and unpredictability, the 56 year old actor makes all of his action sequences absolutely believable. This is one of the greatest strengths to the film. When guns fire, they sound like guns and not cannons, when people get hit they don’t keep getting up, and when Neeson makes a giant leap and to land atop a boat, he hurts his leg. This is not the cartoonish violence Morel showed off in District 13. This is real violence with real consequences. In a world where bullet time and superhuman feats have become the order of the day, it was really refreshing to see a film that reveled in realism.

If there is anything really negative to say about this film, it has to be that in essence it is a one man show. Neeson is brilliant in it, but I would have liked to see some of the other characters fleshed out a bit more. Janssen and Grace have little to do other than be the bitchy ex-wife and the kidnapped daughter. Olivier Rabourdin, as Neeson’s former French ally, does a fine job with his miniscule screen time, and I really wish more had been done with him to give his big scene more impact. I wish I could go more into the film’s plot, but this is a flick that is easily spoiled so please pardon my uncharacteristic brevity,

While I do wish there had been a more fleshed out narrative, the film does feel like the emotions of Neeson’s character, determined, focused, and frenetic. For a straight up action film, I don’t know how you could do much better than this in recent memory. So many films in this genre now have to be dressed up with super heroes or science fiction, and Taken hearkens back to heyday of actors like Charles Bronson. I could easily see Charlie in this role, and that’s a good thing. I only hope Morel can stay on this path (and he should as Taken was sleeper hit) and deliver more action that relies on the real world and not a ton of flashy effects.

Bugg Rating 

6 comments:

  1. Dear Mr. Bugg: I had not considered this film but will now. Love Neeson - he always makes the physical completely real (see Rob Roy). I like your observations about lack of exaggeration making violence more real. I'm in. -- Mykal

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  2. After I've seen the lacklustre Transporter 3, I was fairly happy to see Besson write the script of a decent and simple film. Of course, the film needed a little bit more character development considering the place that Famke Jansen and Maggie Grace occupy in the film. However, Neeson was so convincing!

    As for the action scenes, there's no doubt I liked their realism.

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  5. (Had some weird problems posting there… got it fixed.)

    I've got this in the Netflix queue, right at the top, and am now looking forward to it! Thanks Bugg.

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  6. This was so amazing. It's the one film in the past 5 years that has made me stand up in my seat in the theatre and go HOLY SHIT, THAT WAS AWESOME.

    yeah, i'm 15 sometimes. sue me.

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