18 March 2009

Movie Review: Taken


2008, 96mins, PG-13
Director: Pierre Morel
Writer (s): Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Cast includes: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Xander Berkeley, Maggie Grace, Katie Cassidy, Holly Valance, Arben Bajraktaraj , Nicolas Giraud
Release Date: 30th January 2009

Whilst not entirely unenjoyable a thriller as flimsy and infatuated with violence as Taken is never going to leave the viewer with a particularly sweet taste in the mouth. It does a few things well and actually pushes a great actor like Neeson as an action hero but sadly as a whole it’s rather nasty and unsatisfying, and in truth its Irish poster boy coasts in the most disappointing of fashions.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a retired government “preventer” a man who has worked his whole life to keep both country and family safe. However now in retirement and stuck in a messy divorce he spends time with his buddies and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), at this point the most important thing in his life. He sees her irregularly enough as it is, she lives with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and her new hubbie (Xander Berkeley) but now wants to spend her vacation in Paris. Bryan is reluctant at first to let her go, but eventually concedes on the basis that she will remain in contact at all times and think safety first. However not more than a few hours after arrival in Paris he receives a distressed call from Kim stating she’s about to be kidnapped, leaving her Dad precious few clues as to who is about to commit the deed. However Bryan won’t be stopped and heads into Europe to reclaim his daughter and bring justice to those keeping her hostage.

It’s shocking that Taken has been given a PG-13 rating by the MPAA, following on from similar judgments for equally hard edged efforts like The Dark Knight and Max Payne the certification board really needs to step back and take a better look at the films they’re watching. Taken is brimming with vicious violence and pulls very few punches in the arenas of drug abuse and prostitution, for me the core themes of this feature felt to intense and dark for teenage audiences yet director Pierre Morel ladles on the mature scenes like tomorrows never coming. Some of the violence is nicely condensed into effective action moments but that is only around half the time, and in truth it makes the feature no more appropriate for 13 year olds. It’s not that I was shocked or appalled by what I saw, but you don’t need to hold ultra conservative views to see what is up on screen here is definitely R rated material.

The film is built around a single performance and tragically it’s not a particularly good one, the reliable Liam Neeson lazily coasting his way through the entire film for the money at the other side. I was never convinced that Bryan was a real person Neeson either underacts or hams it up; failing utterly to connect with any sort of reality based middle ground. The support may as well have called in their performances; Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace are given nothing to work with and the bad guys ultimately boil down to gun fodder. A thriller like this works best with a memorable villain and demands a decent hero, but sadly Taken isn’t providing either.

A handful of the action beats work and certain scenes are mined successfully by Pierre Morel for tension, but Taken feels like it has nothing to wrap them in. The screenplay is basic and under plotted whilst the entire concept is hardly original, so all the audience is left with are a selection of better than average gun fights. That might work for some but I need a little more substance than that to warrant a recommendation.

The picture isn’t particularly great to look at, the cinematography is pretty average and Morel clearly shows himself up as a workmanlike helmer when he’s not directing action. However it’s not he who deserves the majority of the blame for the bemusingly so-so actioner, it’s the duo of writers behind the formulaic screenplay and uninteresting performances which really sink this ship from the outset. Die hard action fans might find it tolerable but for everyone else Taken is a shockingly mediocre effort

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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