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TAKEN (2009) ***** ADVANCED REVIEW by COOP

Posted on January 26th, 2009
Posted on January 26th, 2009


Liam Neeson usually underwhelms me. At the beginning of his career, he starred in some pretentious period pieces and his acting style came across as too arty and stilted for my tastes. After “Star Wars: Episode One,” he began taking more genre roles which caused me to pay more attention to him, but the story usually sidelined him in the role of a wise mentor. Prepare to see a side of Neeson you’ve never seen before. In “Taken,” he’s a man of action in what may be the most satisfying spy film since “Casino Royale.”

Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a kind and rather unassuming retiree who wants nothing more than to re-establish a relationship with his 17 year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). After years of working overseas, his past neglect causes him deep regret. His loving gestures of reconciliation pale in comparison to the gifts and affection lavished upon Kim by his ex-wife (Famke Jannsen) and her millionaire husband (Xander Berkley). When Kim goes to France and is kidnapped, the villains soon discover they’ve made a grave mistake. Bryan informs a kidnapper over the phone, “I will find you… and I will kill you.” Turns out Bryan is an ex-“Black Ops” superspy and he will tear Paris apart (and boy does he ever) to find his daughter.

Before viewing “Taken,” I expected a slowly paced, moody thriller. Instead, it surprised me with a high-octane, Euro-action film in the vein of “Ronin” and the current James Bond films. “Taken” has all of the elements to make it a perfect spy thriller: A high-concept premise, explosive action, ultra-tight pacing, car chases, gun battles, hand-to-hand combat and most importantly… a capable lead actor. Neeson shocked me with his ability to look like a pro while pulling off combat moves during complex action scenes. Neeson has hinted at a talent for action in films like “Star Wars: Episode One” and “Batman Begins.” It’s refreshing to see him take center stage and prove exactly how intimidating he can be in a fight.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Neeson as Bryan Mills return in some sort of sequel/prequel to bring the hurt down on more international scumbags. He’s a fun character because he has the skills and talent to track down anyone, but he doesn’t do the smooth-talking spy bit for long. He doesn’t have time. A former partner informs him he has 96 hours tops before his chances of finding his daughter dwindle down to zero. The second he finds his target, he strikes first with an animal ferocity. He doesn’t care how many armed adversaries he has to face at once; he takes them all on without hesitation. While watching him work, I got to thinking… He’s probably the guy who trained Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne, then got loaned out to MI-6 to train James Bond. He’s that good. There’s also a subplot involving him moonlighting as personal security for a famous singer (much like “The Bodyguard”) that pays off nicely in the end. This guy does everything.

It’s no surprise that the director Pierre Morel served as director of photography on action blockbusters like “The Transporter.” His 2004 directorial debut “District 13” became a cult hit in America and one of the most fun action films ever to come out of France. Hollywood better start courting this guy because he’s got some fresh talent that could boost the recent slump in American action films.

Maggie Grace (from TV’s first season of “Lost”) gives a worthy performance as a daughter-in-distress. Her (and Neeson’s) best scene gets spoiled in the trailer, but it does set up the roller coaster ride. Famke Janssen’s character as the former wife comes across as harsh and bitter towards her ex-husband, but her demeanor suggests Bryan was not always the polite, fatherly type. Her disgust with him makes you feel sorry for Bryan, but once he starts his rampage through the Parisian underworld, you realize what a hard man he can be.

Some might compare “Taken” with the 2004 Tony Scott thriller “Man on Fire” or with the Jason Bourne films, but I found “Taken” more gratifying based on the strength of the lead character. I’d put Bryan Mills up against anything Denzel Washington’s Creasy could muster on his best day. I’ve never cared for any of the “Bourne” films, mostly because I never bought Matt Damon as a tough guy. Here, you will believe in Neeson. If you’re looking for a rip-roaring action film, you can’t do any better than “Taken.” I give it my highest recommendation.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The great trailer below shows all you need to know. Note the release date at the end. This should’ve been out in September…

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