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Taken

November 2, 2008

Here be spoilers.

I recently checked out the new Liam Neeson action thriller, Taken, on the recommendation of some friends of mine. They said it was basically a film in which Liam Neeson runs around kicking the shit out of people and that this was precisely why it was hugely enjoyable. I’m happy to report that they were not wrong. Taken delivers.

Time to declare an obvious bias: I am a big Neeson fan and I have been since as far back as Darkman. I like the guy a lot. I like his physical presence, his voice, his hair. I even like the rumours that he possesses an enormous penis.

In Taken, Liam Neeson plays a character that is essentially a kind of ‘Daddy Bourne’. He’s an older, retired version of Jason Bourne minus all the angst and struggle concerning amnesia and rediscovered humanity. Bourne without the complexity. That complexity made the Bourne movies so goddamn good but, as Taken is clearly a product riding on the coattails of the Bourne franchise, you can forgive them for eschewing more interesting character development here in order to serve up a perfectly entertaining slab of ass-kicking with an atypical, yet quality, actor in the lead role. Neeson plays a former CIA field operative who has retired in order to spend more time with his teenage daughter. He also has to put up with Famke Janssen as an uberbitch ex-wife who seems to relish rubbing his face in the fact that their marriage failed and that she has remarried an extraordinarily rich guy who can buy the daughter horses. The ex-wife is soon put firmly in her place, however, when the daughter is kidnapped by some dirty Albanian sex traffickers whilst holidaying alone in Paris and only Brian (Neeson) has the super-spook, kickass skills to rescue her (and massacre the living shit out of everyone responsible for the abduction).

One of the few complaints I have here is the reveal of Neeson as a major badass. The moment when his daughter is abducted, and he happens to be talking to the kidnapper on his daughter’s phone, would have been the perfect time for the film to reveal the ‘Daddy Bourne’ aspect. Instead, assuming the audience is fucking stupid and needs to be spoon fed these kind of details, they have Neeson sitting around at a barbecue with some old friends at the start of the movie, the express purpose of the scene being for the supporting characters to relay some overly-obvious exposition regarding their former glory days in military intelligence.

“Hey, remember that time we were in Syria and you threw that grenade back at those terrorist motherfuckers? You were such an asskicker, man.”

The film could have easily played out the entire first act with Neeson as a typical everyman dad, just trying to do right by his estranged family and thereby creating a thrilling twist for the second act. Instead, you know from the start of this movie that the main character is going to be embarking on an imminent berserker rampage.

Neeson is Daddy Bourne!

That said, Taken wastes little time. In a terse hour and forty minutes, Neeson gets himself to Paris and sets about tracking down his daughter and making sure he brutally dispatches all of the dirty sex-trafficking bastards that grabbed her. This involves a surprisingly frequent and enormously satisfying amount of ultra-violence from the protagonist. The action is delivered in that now de-rigeur style of frenetically edited, close up combat (see the aforementioned Bourne flicks) with Neeson’s character having a high speed, larynx-crushing throat strike as his signature move.

This movie also falls into the category of recent American film and TV that explores the topic of the long-standing prohibition on torture as being at least open to debate. Whereas 24 has managed season after season riffing on the widely discredited ‘ticking-bomb’ scenario, Taken goes for a similar but more crudely emotive approach. Neeson manages to capture one of the dirty Albanian bastards that he knows has kidnapped his daughter whilst she is still missing. He therefore needs to get the intel on her whereabouts from the guy he has captured and that guy, bizarrely, decides to be an uncooperative hardass about the whole thing. Cue some metal spikes plunged into the thighs and wired into the electrical mains. Perhaps I’m just given to morbid amorality, but I have no real problem with this kind of tortu-tainment. In the interests of balance, however, I would like to see a few decent examples of film and TV that show a more realistic depiction of torture e.g. people being tortured purely for shits and giggles, not just the lurid fiction of torture as a desperate necessity to save innocent lives. A dark, satirical take on Abu Ghraib with Nic Cage as a jittery coalition soldier and John Turturro applying his non-specific ethnicity to the role of a tortured Iraqi, perhaps? It couldn’t be too earnest, the box-office failure of Rendition has shown there is currently no public appetite for serious reflection on American abuses of power. Black comedy would be the way to go.

Tortu-tainment.

Tortu-tainment.

As I said, Taken delivered pretty much what I expected it to. It’s a fast-paced, throwaway piece of entertainment that takes the fight scene aesthetic of the Bourne movies, puts it in Liam Neeson’s very capable hands and wraps it all up in a simplistic and satisfying ‘get the girl, kill the baddies’ package. If you don’t expect too much from this movie you won’t be disappointed. There is no serious exploration of sex trafficking in Europe or of what it is to be a government operative given to extreme action in the service of one’s country. All of those aspects of the plot are mere window dressing for the overall thrill ride. I recommend it though. Just turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.

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One comment

  1. I always did think something about Neeson screamed “Horse Penis”. He just has that look. Like some leathery, half-man half-beast.

    That’s as far as I read into this post, since I’m avoiding spoilers. I completely forgot this movie existed. Off to look up when/if it’s coming to theaters locally…



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