I wrote a blog a few months ago concerning things I feel like I should hate but find it hard to do so. The entry centered namely around Justin Timberlake, whom I feel I should hate with the fire of a thousand suns but find it impossible to do. And so it is with “Taken.”
So many things about this film stand for the many things I am so fervently against in the movie industry. The plot is lacking, the holes in the story gigantic, and much of the acting is atrocious. And I mean, seriously atrocious. It is a movie that is completely and totally action driven, something I generally hate in a movie. Yet I cannot keep myself from loving what I just saw.
There’s almost no plot to sum up here. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what this movie is about. Former FBI/CIA/CTU/Something Government Related agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has retired from said Government Related Agency job and is trying to be a civilian in an attempt to get closer to his 17 year old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). When Kim is offered the opportunity to spend the summer abroad, Bryan reluctantly relents, on the condition that she stay in contact with him through the use of an international phone he buys her. Upon arriving in Paris, Kim and her friend immediately make all the dumb mistakes you hear about in kidnapping stories. Soon after, while on the phone with Bryan, Kim realizes there are intruders in the house and she is about to be abducted. Bryan promises to come for her and promptly jumps back into Government Related Agent mode. The rest of the film follows Bryan as he burns France to the ground in an effort to find his daughter.
If you’re looking for complex plot points, this isn’t the movie for you. The entire film is one attack-on-bad-guy after another. There is very little concern for international law or “conscience questions.” In most action movies, these things are at least mentioned or thought about, even if only for a moment or two. In “Taken” these things are discussed in about one sentence and then kicked to the curb where they belong. Bryan Mills has far too many Albanians to take down to think about things such as laws. His ONLY concern in life is finding his daughter and he will do anything and everything to make that happen. This includes, but is not limited to, breaking and entering, torture, impersonating a foreign official, and leaving anyone behind who is not his daughter. This is not “Dark Knight” or any other action movie in which the hero struggles to find the line between wrong and right. There is no gray in this film. Bryan Mills is RIGHT, everyone else is WRONG, and it is as simple as that, collateral damage be darned. “Taken” is very unapologetic in this stance and it works.
Here is why “Taken” works where other films fail. Too often, action movies try to bridge the gap between reality and fantasy and in doing so fall flat. Our hero cannot take out 37 bad guys with a single pistol clip then stop to reload a moment later. If you’re going to allow him to not reload for an entire battle, then go full out and toss out the reloading all together. Another one of the more tired clichés in action movies is for the hero to take somewhere between 2 and 41 bullets during the course of the film yet still manages to get by. “Taken” throws out the notion that the hero ever has to even be winged by an enemy’s bullet. The shooting displayed by everyone in this film who is not Liam Neeson would make a Stormtrooper proud. Bryan Mills seemingly walks through gun fire the way Wyatt Earp does to take down Curley Bill in “Tombstone.” And when a bullet won’t do the job, he’s more than capable of delivering a karate chop to the neck that immediately knocks a would-be attacker out.
On the flip side of that coin, too many action films take absolutely preposterous ideas and turn the whole thing into a special effects collage surrounded by the “Oh yeah, this is supposed to have some sort of story” plot line. A wonderful example of this would be “Crank 2: High Voltage” which I was so lucky to see a trailer for prior to “Taken.” (If you can’t tell that this sentence is OOZING sarcasm please stop reading now.) This movie selects a subject (the abduction of a family member) that audiences can relate to or at least imagine what they would do in the situation and then seemingly allows the imagination to run free. It’s a brilliant mix because while the on screen happenings are often ridiculous, the story in which it happens is very real and easily related to. When the fairly predictable final scene comes into reality, it is less anti-climatic and more justifying.
It should be noted once more that the acting (outside of Neeson) in this movie is absolutely horrendous. Maggie Grace, in particular, is laughable as a 26 year old trying desperately to cling to the ideas of what a 17 year old should behave like. My comment to those sitting near me was that it felt like Neeson was acting in a major motion picture and the rest of the cast was participating in a drama class at Santa Monica Junior College. (Very similar, in fact, to “The Phantom Menace.”) But in a way this seems to work for “Taken” as crazy as this may sound. While Mills has no time to mess with the intricacies of diplomacy, neither does director Pierre Morel have time to mess with the motivation of his actors. I would be very skeptical of any future Morel films. But in the end, “Taken” is a highly enjoyable “man’s movie” and Mills is a subtly clever and witty “man’s man.” In the spirit of “Die Hard” I was able to revel in the absurdity rather than be turned off by it and that is where this film hits its mark.