Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Taken by surprise

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has only recently given up his government career as what he calls, a "preventer" to be near his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who lives with Bryan's ex-wife Lenore (Famke Jenssen) and her new husband. To make ends meet, Bryan joins some former colleagues for special security details (like guarding a pop diva), but most of his time and energy are spent re-connecting with Kim. But, when Kim requests his permission to spend time in Paris with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy), he reluctantly consents. Bryan's worst fears are realized when Kim and her friend Amanda are suddenly abducted - in broad daylight - from the Paris apartment at which they've just arrived. Moments before Kim is dragged away by the as yet unseen and unknown assailants, she manages to phone Bryan, who begins to expertly piece together clues that will take him to the darkness of Paris's underworld, and to the City of Light's plushest mansions.

Taken suggests we should never underestimate what a father would do when his daughter is in peril -- especially when that father is a retired government black-ops CIA agent who knows he has only 96 hours before his recently kidnapped daughter will disappear into the sleazy Parisian underworld, a slave to the thriving sex trade. Throw in the fact that this highly efficient operative is played by Liam Neeson, an actor we’ve always considered in a class above the Hollywood action stars typically featured in genre pictures like this one, and Taken ends up being a highly entertaining action piece. The film opens as we meet Bryan Mills (Neeson) who recently retired from his super-spy government job and now occasionally moonlights as security detail for various events, the most recent of which finds him in charge of a threatened pop diva (Holly Valance). A bit melancholy but not yet ready to dedicate himself to building birdhouses for the rest of his life, he’s just plodding through the days pondering what could have been. Seems his devotion to a career that found him on covert assignments all over the globe not only cost him his wife (Janssen), but also robbed him of a relationship with his teen-aged daughter Kim (Grace), for which he hopes to atone by reentering her life. The worst fears of a father who has seen the world’s dangers first hand come true when Kim and her friend Amanda (Cassidy) are almost immediately kidnapped from their hotel room upon arriving in Paris. Knowing the police will offer very little hope for finding the missing girls, Mills jumps into action mode and learns that an Albanian prostitution ring is at the center of the tragedy. He also learns that 3 or 4 days is about all the time he has before they’re gone forever. Things get fun for the audience when Neeson quickly morphs from sappy father figure to no-nonsense killing machine. His list of worldly skills get put to good use when he coolly and calmly tells the kidnappers, via Kim’s stolen cell phone, “I will look for you, I will find you. And I will kill you.” Despite his cuddly father-figure looks and almost sheepish demeanor, we believe him. But apparently the Albanians don’t. Where Neeson excels -- and what really makes the whole movie work for that matter -- involves how seamlessly he handles both ends of the action hero spectrum needed here. It’s important that we’re drawn into his character by the gravity and complexity he lends to the role. We must understand what drives him and care about his plight. But on the other hand, he must also convincingly deliver on the martial arts sequences. It works… and we’re convinced. Once the action movies to France, the film’s frenetic pace keeps us from thinking too much about what’s believable and what isn’t. Language barriers only become an issue when important to getting out of a corner, and the baddies must be using bulletless machine guns. But Taken is a great ride for action junkies and those who like to see the enemy get the raw end of a deal. It would have been nice to see what the filmmakers could have done with an “R” rating, but even so, for a “PG-13” feature, brutal savagery and guiltless violence are on high display, even though blood, guts, gore and sex aren’t. This movie will get the blood pumping for any action movie fan. I really enjoyed this movie. Definitely a must see. A hardcore 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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