Saturday 30 November 2019

Movie Review: Taken (2008)

An action thriller, Taken is a slick pursuit film enhanced by an unrelenting pace, polished execution and Liam Neeson in a career re-defining performance.

In California, Bryan Mills (Neeson) has retired from a career as a CIA undercover operative to settle near his seventeen year old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), an aspiring singer. Bryan's constant absence from home caused the breakup of his marriage to Lenore (Famke Janssen), and he is now hoping to make up for lost time by being part of his daughter's life.

Bryan reluctantly agrees to allow Kim to travel to Paris for a sightseeing adventure with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy), and his worst fears come true when they are both abducted by a brutal gang of Albanian human traffickers. Learning Kim will be sold into sex slavery within hours, Bryan swings into action and travels to Paris to pursue the kidnappers in an attempt to locate and free his daughter.

Produced and co-written by Luc Besson, Taken recasts Liam Neeson as an unlikely action hero, here as a man with "a very particular set of skills" and more than willing to use them as necessary. The film is often exhilarating, combining Parisian settings with a bull-in-a-china-shop mentality as Mills does a good impression of a bowling ball knocking down all the pins in the path of finding his daughter.

In addition to Besson's touch and Pierre Morel's controlled direction, Taken rises above typical action fare thanks to a concerted effort in the first third to colour in the pertinent details of Bryan Mills' life. He has retired early to try and reconnect with his daughter and make amends for all the times he was never present, and Kim is now the reluctant centre of his universe. He maintains a strained but functional relationship with his remarried ex-wife, and Neeson is convincing as a good guy willing to fully dedicate himself to domesticity, owning his past and accepting his failings.

The asymmetrical father-daughter bond sits at the heart of the film, and makes his quest all the more intense. The abduction scene with Mills on the other end of Kim's phone as she tries to hide from her assailants is an excellent foundation for the manic action to come, and once Mills packs his bags and heads to Paris, the French capital will never be quite the same again.

His ability to emerge victorious in numerous encounters with countless foes is of course ridiculous, but also ridiculously fun. Mills quickly latches onto the outer edges of the Albanian gang and works his way towards the centre in a wondrous series of set-piece featuring car chases (with a yacht thrown in for good measure), infiltrations, impersonations, explosions, torture, close quarters combat and no shortage of rapid fire killings.

Along the way he also exposes look-the-other-way French police corruption, and Taken shines a much needed light on the horrific human trafficking industry, modern-day for-profit slavery exploited by organized crime. Bryan Mills sets out to rescue his daughter with steely determination, but tragically innumerable current and future real Kims also need urgent help.

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