Saturday, March 21, 2009

Catching up with "Taken"

"Taken" has been out for awhile now. It was released with little hype or advertising in the midst of a historically slow time at the box office, starring Liam Neeson, who's a well-respected actor but not exactly a huge star. And it's become the sleeper hit of 2009 -- nearly $130 million as of this writing. So I figured I had to see it.

It's a solid thriller, with Neeson as a retired CIA agent who goes after the kidnappers who grabbed his teen daughter while she was vacationing in Paris. Nothing terribly original, of course, as we've seen movies before about fathers who go after their child's kidnappers ("Ransom") and too many flicks about ex-spooks to count. But it's executed with a spare, intense style that reminded me very much of the '90s film "Ronin" starring Robert De Niro.

What makes it effective as a piece of fiction is Neeson's character. While fantastically skilled with the usual array of superspy abilities -- shooting, hand-to-hand combat, adroitness with gizmos -- there is absolutely no ego about him. He does not revel in killing in any way. It's simply the job to him, one he has grown very good at, but which he executes in the same way as any skilled craftsmen. He does not love his work, even though he's one of the best there is at it.

There's a great scene where Neeson talks on the phone with his daughter's kidnappers, and he slowly and calmly explains to them that he has the means and the will to find them and make them pay for what they've done. He offers them the chance to just let her go, and he'll forget it. Of course, they don't, so soon he's on the hunt.

The action scenes are staged very well by French director Pierre Morel in only his second time at the helm (he's been a cameraman and cinematography until recently). There's plenty of kinetic motion and fast editing without getting the action all jumbled up into a confusing mess (i.e., the last two Jason Bourne movies).

"Taken" isn't anything new, but it's a familiar form done very well. It deserves its success.

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