Liam Neeson lets loose a mean dose of delicious thuggery in Taken, a taut thriller that puts the viewer in the passenger seat right next to a hell-bent father seeking his stolen daughter and the blood of those behind her abduction. Deftly directed by District B13's Pierre Morel from a script by Luc Besson and writing partner Robert Mark Kamen, this tense actioner doesn't spend much time setting things up, nor does it decelerate once the flick picks up steam. Not one to overstay its welcome, this suspenseful tale is an economic exercise in delivering the goods for those who are interested in a two-fisted Liam Neeson vehicle to soak up, bask in, and then leave behind as soon as it's over.
Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA agent who's left behind the service to help care for his teenaged daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), even if she spends most of her time with his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and her wealthy husband, Stuart (Xander Berkeley). Mills shows off his competence in combat early on after thwarting an attempt on the life of pop star Sheerah (Holly Valance), whom his daughter idolizes. Soon after, the 17-year-old is off to Paris, but only once she agrees to a strict set of rules, namely that the family knows where she is at all times. Plans derail when Kim is kidnapped while she's checking in on the phone with her father, who coolly deals with the situation and stays on the line long enough to deliver a killer speech to her captors. What follows is Mills' one-man mission to get his daughter back within 96 hours, using whatever European contacts he has left and the special lethal skills he's quite adept at dishing out.
And dish them out Neeson does. Audiences get a clear idea of what sort of pain is in store for the bad guys early on during the pop-star rescue, which sets up the kind of swift brutality this character is capable of. The actor finds a cool partner in Morel, who delivers the action with a satisfyingly steady hand -- especially in the knife-fight finale, where a full-frame, one-take technique is honored in order to pay off the claustrophobic cabin setting without resorting to superficial style to keep the audience's juices flowing. In the acting department, Neeson is a single-minded, stone-faced wonder -- ready to pummel whoever needs to be knocked down in order to get to his daughter. As the daughter, Grace fulfills the dual nature of her character's arc, delivering both doe-eyed innocence and wide-eyed hysteria with competence. Sadly, Famke Janssen gets lost in the shuffle for most of the film, though to be fair, this flick isn't as much about the mother back home, but the trained torturer dad who'll stop at nothing to bust some slave-trader butt.
Taken might still be on the fluffy side (the emotional beats, especially, feel forced), but it is of a higher pedigree than what action buffs have come to expect from French movie mogul Besson, whose post-directorial writer/producer stints range from the Transporter films to the tongue-in-explosive-cheek Taxi series. While cinephiles certainly won't flock to the flick, the inclusion of Neeson will hopefully tip some audiences off to the fact that there's something a little more to this intimate package than just your normal whiz-bang-pow big-budgeted romp. For fans of tough cinema, this is an installment worthy of comparison to the British crime films of old, which certainly share the narrow-minded propulsion of the plot, as well as having a venerable lead to chew the scenery as he pummels his way through a mystery. Needless to say, if you happen to be snatched up against your will, you could do a lot worse than have a Liam Neeson type waiting in the wings to brutalize his way to your rescue.