Bryan (Neeson) used to be an operative for a covert Government Agency. Now divorced, he has retired and moved to California to be near his young daughter Kim, who lives with his ex-wife and her new, rich husband. After some cajoling, Brian consents to his daughter going on a trip to France with her friend, but no sooner have they got there, they are kidnapped by persons unknown. Bryan must use all his deadly skills and experience in order to get her back, and make her abductors pay.
Anyone who is going into this film (or his new movie Cold Pursuit) may be forgiven during the first 20 minutes, for thinking they’ve found another full movie, as the thriller element of Taken is completely missing. Instead we get to watch 20 minutes of soap-opera family dynamics between Bryan and his family. This is a film with a very slow fuse.
Liam Neeson’s character, Bryan Mills, is a very meticulous person, and usually very cautious. When buying a karaoke machine he first downloads the instructions online and reads it cover to cover. This is a man who makes sure about everything he is doing. We also learn of his devotion to his kid, even compromising an operation just so he wouldn’t miss her birthday. In this way, the film takes on Bryan’s persona. It wants us to understand the bond between father and daughter and the fury he will bring down on anyone who messes with her. We also get an early taste of his skill-set as he takes a job as security for a pop diva (Holly Valance) and has to take out a stalker.
When Kim is kidnapped, the slow fuse that has been pacing Taken reaches its target and hits a powder keg. All of a sudden we are watching an entirely different movie. Its like someone flipped a switch inside Mills. Where before he was passive, now he’s off to war. His training and instincts take over.
The comparisons of Taken to Bourne are favourable. Bryan is actually on the phone with his Kim when the kidnappers invade her apartment. Instead of going to pieces he is able to calmly talk to her, give her instructions for free. He knows he can’t prevent her from being taken. All the time he’s doing this he’s setting up recording equipment to tape the conversation so he can upload it online. In times of stress, let your training take over. There are no plot twists here. Just Brian working people over and following the clues which he hopes will lead him to his daughter. Things start off violently and get gradually worse, each encounter bringing more death and destruction.
Neeson is the star of the show, and you can really believe that he is a dangerous person. At times his relentlessness is almost unsympathetic – one particular dinner scene will leave you in shock – but Neeson’s performance just about keeps the audience on his side. It’s unfortunate that Famke Janssen, one of my favourite genre actresses, is sidelined as the sniping ex-wife. Director Pierre Morel has certainly learnt how to shoot decent action sequences, learning from the mistakes perpetrated on War, on which he was cinematographer. The action has the crispness of Bourne and Daniel Craig-era Bond and the movie on the whole has a “for grown-ups” feel to it.
Taken is definitely a movie you should watch, it has two halves, one minute a soapy family drama, the next a taut exiting thriller, which certainly rewards the viewer with a decent thrill-ride. A light offering between the last Bourne and the next Bond.