Taken (2009)

Director:  Pierre Morel 
Cast:  Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen
Plot:  A former spy relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been forced into the slave trade. 

Genre:  Action / Thriller
Awards:  - 
Runtime:  93min 
Rating:  NC16 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language. 

Taken is the second feature collaboration by Frenchmen Luc Besson and Pierre Morel, and I shall put it as bluntly as possible - it sucks.  The film stars Liam Neeson in the lead role and he happens to be the only bright spark in an utterly forgettable action-thriller which neither thrills nor entertains.  Morel is yet to be established as a reliable filmmaker although Taken assures us that he is still far from that level.

Writer Besson has made a few unique films over his mostly prolific career including his debut The Last Combat (1983), and the stylish thriller Leon: The Professional (1994).  Yet the creator of Nikita (1990) and The Fifth Element (1997) flounders with his newest screenplay which is an impotent mix of cliché-ridden action set-pieces and uninspired storytelling. 

Taken tells the story of an ex-government spy, Bryan Mills (Neeson) whose daughter, Kim, is kidnapped and forced into slavery.  Using his set of cunning and deadly skills developed over decades in spy missions, Bryan hunts down the criminals without remorse.  Neeson, who has considerably aged since the days of Schindler’s List (1993), brings some depth to Bryan despite his character being averagely-developed by Besson. 

To his credit, Neeson makes what his character does for a living seem like easy party tricks, albeit through the use of body doubles.  He breaks necks like twigs, shoots with unnerving accuracy, tortures mercilessly, and for the entire film, he works alone; without bumbling sidekicks, without romantic distractions.  This one-man-show could have been an asset to the film if it is written as a character study rather than a brainless action vehicle. 

Brainless films can actually be entertaining if one substitutes content with visual flair.  But as bad as it sounds, Taken has neither.  The most critical flaw I can find is the generally poor editing during action sequences.  There is negligible suspense created and this is best exemplified during a scene when Bryan, in an attempt to chase a large departing boat, drives an Audi against traffic flow at blinding speeds.  As much as Neeson tries hard to make us like Bryan, we have not much of a reason to fear for the life of his character. 

Moreover, the one-dimensionality of the film’s countless villains means that they are killed off without any emphasis on human drama.  There is also scant screen time for Kim, thus she feels almost like a stranger to us.  Really, apart from Neeson’s, what is there to care about the other film characters?  It does not take an experienced movie critic to observe that Taken is a weak addition to a genre overpopulated with enough 'Takens'.  

GRADE: F (4.5/10 or 2 stars) 

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