The surprise success of Taken, a slickly shot, but wholly ridiculous thriller, is a bit inexplicable, with close to a $150 million domestic take for this French film with all the intelligence of the most souped-up American blockbuster. Films like this shuffle through the multiplexes every month, but Taken excited audiences like most films of its ilk don’t. Too bad it doesn’t really work on any level – there’s potential here to backdrop the story against the rising global problem of sex trafficking, but that would’ve taken up too many of the brisk 93 minutes, and for an action-based film like this, it’s surprising that so many of the combat scenes are wildly incoherent.
The venerable Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, an ex-government agent in an unnamed shadowy organization whose current mission is getting more involved in his daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace) life. That proves difficult as his ex, Lenore (Famke Janssen), doesn’t want him around, and Kim seems perfectly happy with the luxurious lifestyle cultivated by her mom’s new wealthy husband.
When Kim needs Bryan’s consent to take a summer trip to Paris with her friend, he balks, insisting that it isn’t safe, but eventually acquiesces to try and get back in better graces with her and Lenore.
After arriving in Paris, it doesn’t take long for Kim and her friend to fall victim to a con run by a handsome French guy acting as bait in a vast sex trafficking ring. Kim’s on the phone with her dad when she’s abducted, and as he hears his daughter’s screams on the other line, he methodically plans how he will get her back.
Immediately, Neeson goes to badass mode, and it’s admittedly fun to watch him confidently execute every part of his unrelenting plan to get his daughter back – the normally mild-mannered Brit is perfect for the role. Unfortunately, everything that follows from here on out is utterly preposterous, from one of his buddies pinpointing the exact origin of a dialect from a brief recording to the utter incompetence of Bryan’s foes, who really shouldn’t have to work this hard to kill him.
Obviously, realism isn’t the top priority in this kind of film, but it can’t even do what ought to be its bread and butter right – action sequences in which Bryan dispatches his enemies using a number of methods are often so poorly cut, it’s difficult to ascertain the relative location of people and objects, and just what exactly is happening. Pierre Morel’s stylized direction is a good fit for the material, but it’s constantly undermined by the editing.
Troublesome too is the fact that our hero constantly goes overboard in terms of violence. The film goes out of its way to establish that he will not be deterred in his quest, but the unnecessarily brutal nature of much of his violence, including shooting an unarmed and innocent woman, make it hard to really root for him. If Taken would’ve examined the personal toll the experience took on him, then we might have something, but the unbelievably blithe ending makes the preceding 90 minutes a worthless game that carries no emotional impact.
Taken could have been more than a simple shut-off-your-brain thriller, but as it stands, it barely succeeds at that.
The DVD includes both the theatrical version and the uncut version, which is a mere three minutes longer. Special features include two commentary tracks that can only accompany the uncut version – one with Morel and two cinematographers and one with writer Robert Mark Kamen. A 20-minute long making-of featurette is pretty standard stuff, while a look at the French premiere of the film is unintentionally heartbreaking, showing a good deal of footage of Neeson with his late wife Natasha Richardson. Side by side comparisons of six action sequences, showing stunt work contrasted with the final cut, are also included.