Here is the entire premise of Taken (which, incidentally, is not unlike the premise of a Mario Bros. video game):

Girl gets kidnapped.  Dad goes to save her.

While some movies would take that simple yet classic idea and slap on a host of possibly-gratuitous extras like a wisecracking sidekick, romantic subplots, globetrotting, backstabbing, and twist endings, Taken does one thing and one thing only, and that is to fulfill the expectations of its thesis.  Surprisingly enough, it not only works but works very well, thanks in large part to an incredible performance from Liam Neeson as the father, Bryan Mills, who is desperate to save his daughter.

Penned by the brilliant Luc Besson (whose writing credits include Leon, The Fifth Element, and Taken’s spiritual predecessor The Transporter), the script succeeds marvelously because it provides such a unique and pure motive for Mills.  His daughter Kim, played by the capable but unremarkable Maggie Grace, is kidnapped not by drug kingpins for ransom, or by an old comrade bent on revenge for a past wrongdoing, or by a shadowy corporation who is using her as leverage in order for him to do their bidding.  Instead she is taken by a group of human traffickers who are in the business of selling young girls as prostitutes to the highest bidder.  This not only lends a great deal of weight and seriousness to the subject matter of the movie, but provides an emotional engagement for the viewers unlike most movies of this type.

Bowser and Princess Peach? Almost...

In some ways, watching Taken is like watching an extended episode of 24.  Mills, a highly trained government agent who has retired in order to live closer to his estranged family, makes Jack Bauer look like Rainbow Brite.  He punches, kicks, jumps, shoots, and drives his way through so many people on the way to rescuing Kim that the body count would provably rival that of Commando.  Mills is ruthless, like his CTU-based counterpart, but the consequences of failure are greater, from an emotional standpoint, than the apocalyptic scenarios portrayed so often in 24.  However, Mills and Bauer (along with hundreds of action stars before them) obviously went to the same bullet-avoidance training seminar, as dozens of pistol- and uzi-wielding foot soldiers are capable of inflicting anything more than a papercut, even at point blank range.

The cinematography, like most action movies since the early part of the decade, follows the Jason Bourne playbook to a tee:  cuts are fast and frantic, action is dimly-lit, and fistfights are more editing than choreography.  This style works well here, and doesn’t have the nauseating side effects of some other action movies.  An interrogation scene is thrown in almost as an afterthought, but mercifully is nowhere near as wince-inducing the one in Casino Royale.

Who would win in a fight between Chuck Norris and Bryan Mills? Honestly, it would be close.

All the comparisons to other movies and TV shows are necessary when reviewing Taken because, although it is a very good film with a solid and emotionally engaging plot, a hero with whom we can empathize, and a enough action to satisfy any Die Hard or Lethal Weapon fan, it brings nothing new to the table and ends up being something of a “greatest hits” collection of the best its predecessors in the genre have to offer.  Perhaps the biggest surprise it does have, though, is Liam Neeson.  He has always been one of my favorite actors–a classy person who picks great roles, like Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts–but I have never seen him quite like this.  He is entirely convincing as Mills, and pulls off the high-speed action this film requires without missing a beat.  While others could have played the role, Neeson became the role, and that makes all the difference in the world.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (4 votes cast)