Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Movie Review - Taken

Taken **
Directed By:
Pierre Morel.
Written By: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen.
Starring: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Maggie Grace (Kim), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Arben Bajraktaraj (Marko), Xander Berkeley (Stuart), Katie Cassidy (Amanda), Jon Gries (Casey), Camille Japy (Isabelle), Valentin Kalaj (Vinz), Fani Kolarova (Prostitute), Goran Kostic (Gregor), Christophe Kourotchkine (Gilles), Leland Orser (Sam), Olivier Rabourdin (Jean-Claude), GĂ©rard Watkins (St-Clair).

There is not a moment in Taken that is believable. This is true for pretty all action movies – at least all good action movies – but to suspend disbelief as much as this movie requires you to is a skill I simply do not have. It doesn’t really help that the movie has an utterly terrible opening act that pretty much sinks the whole movie before it even gets started.

The movie is about Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), an ex-CIA agent who has retired and settled down to a fairly quiet life in Los Angeles, so he can be close to his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) after years of being an absentee dad. Mills has seen a lot of bad things in his life, so when Kim comes to him and tells him she’s going to France for the summer with her best friend, and no one but some distant cousins to chaperone, he doesn’t like the idea, but he cannot bare to break his daughter’s heart. Big mistake. Kim in not is Paris for more than an hour, before she is kidnapped by a sex slave ring who auctions innocent American girls like her (read: virgins) off to the highest bidder. Mills has 96 hours to find his daughter before she will never been heard from again. So he sets off to Paris, and kills, tortures and maims a whole lot of people to get his daughter back.

The opening scenes of the movie are downright awful – almost unwatchably bad. Neeson seems to care about grounding his character in some sort of reality, but with wild birthday parties, teen pop sensations in need of a bodyguard and the most annoying daughter on the face of the planet, the movie gets off on a sour note and never really recovers. The film certainly gets much better when he gets to Paris, and starts following the sex ring up the ladder, killing everyone who gets in his way in one tightly packaged action sequence after the next, but because we don’t really care about Mills, or his daughter, it all becomes an exercise in style rather than anything substantive. Director Pierre Morel, who made the infinitely better District B-13 (which introduced Parkour to the masses) knows how to stage an action scene, but doesn’t really know how to do anything else. Co-writer Luc Besson has made a lot of action movies in his time (as a writer, director and a producer), almost all as unbelievable as this one, but almost all of them much better than this one.

Much of the movies credibility lies in Neeson’s capable hands. Amazingly, he really does make you believe that he could do everything he does, without feeling or remorse, and that he really does want to get his daughter back. This is why sometimes it’s wise in action movies to cast a real actor, and not just some muscle bound hulk, because in a movie like this, we need to believe in and care for the main character. We really don’t in this film, but Neeson gets us about as close as we were going to get. The rest of the cast isn’t nearly as good, especially Grace, who is a 25 year old, playing a 17 year old, acting like a 12 year old. If she whined anymore, I was about ready to put a bullet in her head.

And there really isn’t much more to say about the movie than that. I will say the movies rather casual attitude about torture disturbed me a little, as did the films pseudo sexual moralizing (if Kim wasn’t a virgin, she would have been dead long before Mills got her, proving that’s its not just the killers in slasher movies who are offended about a girl’s loose morals any more). But it’s hard to take that all that seriously, since the movie never does. If you like mindless action movies, and don’t much care if they make sense, than you may very well enjoy Taken. If you want a little logic to go along with your gunfights, you’re better off staying home.

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