I like Liam Neeson, I like action movies, I love Luc Besson. All in, it seemed quite likely that this would be a movie I’d enjoy. In spite of that, however, I admit that when The Boy and I started seeing previews and ads for Taken, we both agreed that it looked like one of those movies which we might rent, but would most likely just wait to watch on tv.
Fast forward about a month, to when we had a couple free passes to the movies and were both in the mood for an action movie. Inspired by good reviews, and reassured by the teenaged cashier that “Taken? No, it doesn’t suck. … … It’s good. Yeah,” we took the plunge.
I’ll start off by saying that if you’re not one to stomach gory or violent scenes, this probably isn’t the movie for you. (Then again, if that’s the case, you probably have issues with most action movies that aren’t also comedies.) After that, I can’t think of anything else in the movie to warn you off about. It was that good.
So let’s dig a little into what makes this an awesome action-drama movie.
For starters, you’ve got Luc Besson’s writing. This is the man who wrote The Professional, Nikita, and The Fifth Element. (Well okay, and Transporter, but the other three were much better.) We’re dealing with a guy who knows how to write stories which are interesting without trying too hard at being over-the-top mindjobs. (Ahem, Coen brothers? Pay attention.) The other reason to love Besson is that he inevitably picks one or two characters and really brings them to life for the audience. The secondary characters are realistic, but you get the chance in his movies to really get into the skin of the heroes.
So we’re dealing with a strong story and good characters.
Next up: the cast. The main character is Liam Neeson. Not much to say there; he’s a good actor, he was convincing in the role. Secondary characters are played by Maggie Grace, whom I’ve never heard of but who was just fine as the daughter, and Famke Janssen, who I’ve never liked (Jean Grey is irritating in the best of scenarios), but again was perfectly acceptable as the mom.
Strong actors playing believable characters in a good story takes you 85% of the way to awesome. What makes that extra push in this movie, is the level of realism.
As The Boy pointed out, the fight scenes don’t feature the endless kicking, chair-throwing and face-punching of your average action movie. Neeson’s character is meant to be a man of “questionable” talents, and he fights like one: he goes straight after pressure points, shoots with precision, and doesn’t waste time with fancy choreography.
Similarly, the henchmen (who are, after all, just working joes in their own lines of work) aren’t given to any fancy gimmickry or unnecessary mano-a-mano showdowns. If they’re told to dispose of a trouble-maker, they go after the task in the quickest and easiest way they can think of.
The single most un-Hollywood aspect of this movie is its complete lack of a Big Boss. It’s almost disconcerting to watch a movie where there is no nefarious mastermind behind the whole gig; no monologuing, no all-encompassing train of logic to lend meaning to everything bad which has come before. The “big evil” in this movie is the seedy commerce of the underworld, and every villain Neeson goes through is Just Another Guy, going about his business, albeit on the shady side of the street.
That idea, that Neeson is not, in fact, fighting his way up a pyramid, but is really just dealing with individuals, is what lends Taken its realistic core. Everything else which makes you nod and think “yeah, that could happen” is just additional detail.
So where does this put me for recommendations? Go see it. If you like action movies, you will like this one. Yes, there are some cheesy moments, yes there are occasional “he would never get away with that!” lapses, but for the overwhelming majority of the movie, this is just a great story about a guy trying to retrieve his daughter from the clutches of the bad guys.
Also: Luc, I’m sorry I doubted you. (Old system rating: 7.5/9)