← Back to Reviews
#398 - Taken
Pierre Morel, 2008

A former commando goes after a group of human traffickers after they kidnap his daughter.

Liam Neeson is a great actor and I am sort of glad that he's getting regular work thanks to his renaissance (or is that re-Neeson-ce? No, it's renaissance) as an action star, but it's a shame that the film that started the whole thing off, 2008's Taken, is actually the kind of action thriller that I generally don't have much patience for, and not even Neeson's gravelly Irish brogue (which still seeps through into what is presumably an American accent - hey, if Connery and Schwarzenegger don't bother to hide their accents, why should he?) and handsome mug are quite enough to sell what more or less amounts to Death Wish for a new generation.

For starters, the whole first act almost plays out like self-parody as it gives us Neeson as the overly cautious and paranoid ex-commando who resorts to bodyguard jobs while trying his best to maintain ties with his teenage daughter (Maggie Grace) even after his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) has remarried someone far wealthier. Neeson is portrayed as out-of-touch and well-meaning through his overprotective attitude that you obviously know is going to be vindicated by the end of the first act. Once Grace and her friend fall prey to a trap almost immediately after landing in Paris. Neeson jumps at the call to use as many connections and personal skills as possible in order to track her down and make the culprits pay for what they've done. What follows is a fairly rote series of events. Neeson tracks down a lead. Violence and chases ensue. There is the occasional (and I do mean occasional) quiet scene that's intended to be a breather, several of which involve his French contact (Olivier Rabourdin). Repeat until conclusion.

The problem with trying to make it somewhat realistic in terms of Neeson's fighting abilities is that things do get far too repetitive within the confines of an extremely rote and episodic plot. Things don't get much better when it shows that Neeson is willing to go to increasingly violent ends in order to find his daughter, whether it's straight up torturing someone to death for information or giving innocent people flesh wounds as a coercive measure. Not even attempts to balance things out such as having him rescue a drug-addicted sex slave manage to compensate for his more extreme actions, especially since he does so mainly as another way of gathering information. Even Death Wish at least tried to show how Charles Bronson's actions were still fundamentally unjustifiable no matter how much the film may have drifted into garish titillation (to say nothing of the sequels, of course). I'll grant that Taken shows a somewhat appropriate approach to its human-trafficking plot, though it just ends up being sidelined for the sake of giving Neeson an excuse for beat up a large number of villains. The fact that it managed to develop two sequels may imply that they examine the ramifications of Neeson's actions (though there's no telling if I'll watch those ones since they don't sound as good as this one anyway), but since that is all but skipped over completely in this film it's not even a decent examination of vengeful vigilantism underneath its rather generic action.