Film Review: Taken
Director(s): Pierre Morel
Screenwriter(s): Robert Mark Kamen & Luc Besson
Studio: EuropaCorp, M6 Films, Grive Productions Released: 2008
Runtime: 1h 32m
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen
Written by Robert Mark Kamen and Luc Besson (The Transporter, The Fifth Element) and from what one could gather from the trailer, one expects this to be a short, no-brainer, action-packed, light entertainment. And that’s what it mostly is.
Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has retired from his espionage/military career to rebuild a relationship with his estranged teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). When Kim wants to take a trip to Paris with her friend, Bryan is reluctant, fearing for her safety given the state of the world. But he allows her to go. When Kim and her friend arrive in Paris and are stupid enough to acquaint themselves with a stranger, Kim and her friend are abducted by those involved in trafficking young women with Kim having a chance to speak to her father over the phone as this happens. Mills then hunts down those responsible and rescues his daughter in the narrow timeframe he has.
Liam Neeson gives his usual calm and wooden performance. He is angry but doesn’t quite show it; his efficiently brutal (although not necessarily unjust) actions and the consequent body count speak for themselves. Never is he the goodie-two-shoes hero who makes excessive effort to avoid killing, nor is he the out-of-control vindictive father who kills indiscriminately and wastes time dwelling on inflicting pain. He meticulously does what needs to be done, then moves on.
The cinematography and editing by Michel Abramowicz and Frédéric Thoraval respectively are vigorous, with quick cuts and camera movement, not unlike the Bourne films, but much more measured and therefore less disorientating. The sound is also calculatedly mixed and edited—loud, crisp and clear when needed, nothing more, nothing less.
The narrative is compact and although the plot is generally predictable with stereotypical characters, the pacing mostly makes up for it. The set pieces are well-executed, even if it is a little fantastical at times. But that is expected too.
I revisited this film for two reasons. The first is from a literary perspective as there have been many Taken clones since 2008 even though this film was not the original “lone operative” action-thriller.
Although there are plenty of films with that premise and tone, one could consider the French Le Femme Nikita (1990) and its English remake The Assassin (1993) as contemporary “originals”. These two have relatively younger female leads. Then there is the Bourne series (2002) with Matt Damon as the relatively younger male lead. One notable anomaly is The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) starring Geena Davis who at the time was about 40 years old—not old but not that young either, which I appreciate. Incidentally, this film has the CIA planning a false flag event to kill a few thousand people.
Since then, nothing particularly memorable of that genre has come forth in English-speaking cinema. So, when Taken was released in 2008 with an older male lead, it felt different even if it follows a similar formula as its predecessors in other respects. As expected, the subsequent clones aren’t as good.
This leads to the second reason for my revisiting this film, which is the subject matter of human trafficking. At the time, this was something talked about but not as much as in recent years, and I was pleasantly surprised that an action film for the masses used it as its premise, even if superficially. As Mills tries to find his daughter, he discovers elements of the network involved, including the complicity of officials, hinting at a larger conspiracy. Also, it involves immigrants. Filmmakers deliberately racist and/or predictive programming, or merely an observation? Either way, the world is too woke for that today.
Whilst the film avoids the cheesy approach of having the main character incidentally take down the entire network, the film is nevertheless almost too simple, morally and in terms of plotting. Without compromising the pace or overextending Mills’s abilities, there could be more hints of other parties involved without Mills necessarily getting directly involved. Of course, if he does, then there is reason for more action without implying he is taking down everyone. I am against senseless violence in real life and in entertainment, but if justice is not ignored, then that is more important. By adding a little complexity, it fixes both problems: plotting becomes more interesting and the story won’t feel as morally cheap since it obviously plays on one’s abhorrence to human trafficking. No way is the audience not going to feel good watching Mills blow away traffickers anyway, but at least make it more interesting.
Having said all that, the subject matter is nonetheless serious and disturbing, the film highlighting—if only in a toned-down manner—the horrors of the slave trade and the participation or at least culpable negligence of the corrupted authorities. Despite its simplicity, Taken is mostly a satisfying and technically well-produced film.
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