Film Reviews

Taken Pierre Morel

Rating - 6/10

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) dearly wishes to be a family man. The alacrity of time has not helped. Broke, divorced from his wife and estranged from his seventeen year old daughter, Bryan has left his job with the CIA to enter into semi-retirement status in Los Angeles to be closer to his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Bryan hopes to make amends through his relocation.

Unfortunately for Bryan, Kim is no longer the little girl adorning the photographs in his slender album. Nor is her icy mother Lenore (Famke Janssen), now remarried to a wealthy businessman (Xander Berkeley), happy with the arrangement. Lenore cannot forgive Bryan for allowing his career to take precedence over his family life. Nor, seemingly can Kim: a materialistic teenager who pushes her father’s buttons to provoke guilt-ridden decisions such as the one that sparks Pierre Morel's sophomore film into life.  

Case in point: when the underage Kim pressures Bryan to sign a form allowing her to travel overseas to Paris. Despite Bryan’s overwhelming reservations and suspicions, the ex-CIA man acquiesces in order to please his daughter. What happens next confirms Bryan’s worst fears about Kim’s safety abroad, as his daughter is kidnapped by an Albanian criminal organization. Using his intelligence contacts, Mills’ follows the trail and thrusts Taken into a shady underworld of human trafficking, prostitution and corruption from which only he can retrieve his daughter.
Directed by French director Pierre Morel and co-written by action director Luc Besson, Taken is a hyper-kinetic, fast and violent Europeanized thriller more akin to Tony Scott’s Man on Fire than the laconic, Gallic existentialist musings of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai. However, like Jef Costello in Le Samourai, Neeson’s Bryan Mills is a well-trained professional equipped with the minimalist skills necessary to fulfill his duties. In contrast to Jef Costello, Neeson’s grizzled, lone wolf is a figure brimming with obsessive, vengeful fury in an ugly, cold and deceitful world filled with ethnic insecurities and suspicions.
Morel’s film and its protagonist are clearly operating in and influenced by a post-9/11 landscape. Neeson’s character is more than willing to participate in ethically questionable activities to secure his daughter’s safety. His compassionless methodology to acquire information includes acts of torture and a readiness to engage in malicious acts of gunplay toward innocent parties. This dark tactical approach inflects an undercurrent of moody paranoia and xenophobic distrust permeating Taken’s mis-en-scène. Morel’s antagonists, compiled mostly of Eastern European immigrants and Middle Eastern businessmen, lack any nuance or complexity.
Disconcertingly, Morel reduces these participants to stock clichés and stereotypes: emphasizing the apparent danger of their foreignness at the expense of offering any genuine insight into Taken’s seedy backdrop of human trafficking and prostitution. This is disappointing, especially since Morel amply provides an opening act buttressed by a series of backfired personal relationships and parental guilt. Subsequently, the film’s one-dimensional villains merely act as fodder standing in the way of Neeson’s redemptive one man army. Morel probably could have fashioned greater dimensions to the film’s narrative and characters, but it’s hardly the main objective of this genre exercise.  
Although Morel’s film suffers because of its ethnicized fear-mongering, in addition to Besson and Robert Mark Kamen’s absurd dialogue and outlandish situations, it finds strength in Neeson’s sterling credibility and Morel’s sparse efficiency. With Morel’s subjective camera continuously positioned on Bryan throughout Taken, Neeson provides an assiduous quality of determined strength; providing Taken with a composed groundswell of dramatic presence amidst the waves of cartoonish violence and exploitation film ridiculousness. 
As a result, Taken is a surprisingly well-made, vindictive B thriller that is brisk in its editing and artless in its unconcealed limitations. Taken is the type of unapologetically morally ambivalent film that Charles Bronson probably would have been assigned to thirty years ago; a motion picture as undeniably brutal and unforgiving as it is implausible. In tandem with Neeson’s poised performance as Taken’s exterminating angel, Morel’s well-directed, energetic action sequences compensate for the thinness of Taken’s formulaic conclusions and intolerant attitudes.
Destined to be a trashy, late night guilty pleasure somewhere.