Who would have ever thought that Hollywood would attempt to include an important topic to serve as the basis for one of its typically generic, yet entertaining action films? Generally these films are created to provide mindless escapism along with a hefty dose of guns and fist-fights, or just to be another brainless vehicle showcasing the action star of the moment. In the case of “Taken”, a much more serious topic, the trafficking of women, serves as the catalyst for all the mayhem that ensues over the course of the film.
“Taken” is the story of a young girl named Kim (Maggie Grace), who takes a trip to France with a friend for the summer; however, what should have been a trip filled with good times and fond memories, turns horribly wrong when they are kidnapped for the sole purpose of being sold into a dark underworld of sex and drugs. What the kidnappers didn’t count on was that Kim’s father, Bryan (Liam Neeson), is a man of rather “special” talents that he learned during his time spent working as a spy for the United States government. With his daughter’s life in jeopardy, Bryan must call upon every deadly skill he’s ever learned to track down those responsible and save his daughter before it’s too late.
Filmmaker and writer Luc Besson (“Transporter” series) has made a career out of delivering to audiences bone crushing, overly stylized and over-the-top action movies that entertain us, but don’t really give us anything new in terms of story or emotional range. With “Taken” Luc Besson, along with co-writer Robert Mark Kamen (“Transporter 2”), imbues the story with a much more serious, emotionally charged backbone. The seedy underworld of kidnapping and trafficking women for sex is one that exists without a whole lot of attention being called to it, thus making this film’s message all the more important. The story is wisely written in such a way that it gives us just enough of a glimpse into this world that we become more enlightened as too some of the new threats out there, but not so graphic that the film is too shocking for most people to see. By handling the subject matter in this somewhat delicate manner, some would say it just glossed over the evil done in this so-called “business”, but the message is able to reach a much broader spectrum of people than a harder edged movie would have been able to. For those feeling that the film didn’t do enough to expose the despicable nature of this world, I do agree, but I understand why it was a better decision not to go too far with it. Because to go too hard and gritty with this movie by being too explicit, you run the risk of limiting and/or alienating your audience, which is not something you want when dealing with such a serious topic.
Even with the much heftier subject matter, “Taken” still could have run the risk of being just a slightly above average action movie if not for the considerable talents of star Liam Neeson. Liam brings to the character of Bryan a gentleness and an obvious love for his daughter in the early portion of the movie, so that when the rubber really hits the road, the actions he takes to find her, and the ferocity in which he acts is completely believable. Regardless of how brutal Bryan may act towards these undeniably deserving adversaries, he never becomes inaccessible to the audience. This is because Liam’s gravitas and at times emotional performance keeps the audience invested in his character and his mission. Sometimes in an action movie, the action can become too front and center that the how’s and why’s of the story (no matter how important and central they may be to the action) get forgotten about until the very end when they are conveniently re-introduced to the audience as a reminder. For “Taken” this is not the case, as Bryan’s love for his daughter and unwillingness to give up on finding her always remains front and center, even during the action sequences.
Other members of the cast included Famke Janssen (“X-Men” trilogy), Maggie Grace (“The Fog”), and Leland Orser (“The Bone Collector”). Each of these supporting actors and actresses do a good job with the little time they do receive onscreen. Primarily this movie belongs solely to Liam Neeson, while the supporting roles are nothing more than glorified cameos, which suits this type of film perfectly. Out of the supporting cast, Maggie Grace probably gives the best performance, because had it not been for her emotional connection with Liam in the film’s early scenes, the audience wouldn’t have been able to connect with him as much later on. Sure, the story would have still impacted us in some way, but by having their relationship feel so realistic, it made our connection to him throughout the remainder of the film all the more palpable.
Lastly, first time director Pierre Morel brings his keen eye for action to the proceedings with great effectiveness. Pierre’s work as Director of Cinematography on the action film “War”, starring Jet Li and Jason Statham, clearly served as great preparation for his work on this film. While I didn’t enjoy the aforementioned film all that much, the action scenes were handled very well, much the same way as they are here. Unlike many of writer Luc Besson’s action films, “Taken” contains none of his trademark over-the-top, overblown action sequences that while incredibly fun to watch, are completely unbelievable. Instead, Pierre opts to keep the action realistic and up-close and personal, while still providing plenty of hard-hitting, fast-paced (somewhat stylized) fight sequences, that don’t really feel all that unbelievable or obviously choreographed.
“Taken” is a great action film that offers plenty of violence for the action junkies, while at the same time providing some solid acting, and a story that shines a light on a dark world that needs to be exposed and put to an end.
“Taken” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and brief sensuality.