Monday, 16 February 2009

Taken (2008)

A young teenage girl is kidnapped while vacationing in Paris and it is up to her father to find her. Yes, it sounds like a typical vehicle for Harrison Ford. But guess what, he’s busy or too costly or whatever, because the producers of Taken settled on Liam Neeson. Liam Neeson, the reliable Irish actor who reached the heights of stardom as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List and then settled into a comfortable career as a perpetual supporting player, more than often, acting as the noble mentor to the younger hero (Phantom Menace, Kingdom of Heaven, Batman Begins). You may be sceptical about his abilities as an action hero; I know my friend Dan was doubtful (“Pfft, no-one believes you as a CIA operative, Neeson!”). However, Neeson is in the employ of producer Luc Beeson who churns out B-movie action thrillers built from recycled parts: European location shoots, fast cars, martial arts, John Woo styled shoot-outs, and trip-hop/techno music scores. By the end of the movie, Dan was convinced: “I am full of anticipation whenever Neeson gets near a dodgy Albanian and is close to fucking him up!”

The first twenty minutes of the film is the hardest to get through as the makers do everything possible to force the viewer to realise that Neeson is a devoted father and unloved family man. Divorced from his bitchy wife (Famke Janssen who is always telling him, “You’re still having trouble following the rules”), Neeson rocks up to his daughter’s birthday party with a rinky-dink karaoke machine as to facilitate her dreams of becoming a singer. His daughter is played by Maggie Grace who was about 27 when this film was shot but dumbs down substantially to play a 17-year-old. She receives the gift graciously but Neeson’s efforts are overshadowed by her stepfather’s extravagant present of a real-life PONY! (As fellow viewer Cowgill sarcastically asked, “Is the rich step dad gonna rescue her from terrorists?”) But there is something more about Neeson’s character. Don’t count him out. Look at the precision he displays to wrap a single gift; yes, that’s right, he’s ex-CIA covert operative super-soldier. Or a “preventor” as he informs his daughter when she inquires into his mysterious past (actually The Preventor would have been a better title). There’s a bit of action when we see Neeson speedily subdue a stalker when he’s guarding a blonde pop star played by Holly Valance (garrrgh!) with his old CIA buddies. However, the story begins when his daughter needs his permission to go on vacation in Paris where she secretly intends to follow with her friend the European tour of U2 (I was disappointed that there was no Bono cameo!). Yes, the producers of Taken have their fingers on the pulse of what teenage girls like and also the way they speak, you know, with how they always say “sick”(“This trip will be so sick!”).

Neeson ominously intones, “I’m not comfortable with this. I know the world.” Sure enough, he’s on the phone with her when she and her friend are grabbed by Albanians running a sex slavery trade across Europe. This leads to one of the best sequences in the movie where Neeson opens up a suitcase filled with gadgets, fake Ids and weapons, sets the phone to speaker setting, listens in horror to the kidnapping whilst calmly talks his daughter through describing every detail she sees. Then when she’s dragged off, he keeps talking, telling the phone, “Whoever you are... I have skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that will make me a nightmare for you.” This is compelling stuff though I wanted them to cut back to where the daughter was staying in Paris and hear Neeson laying down all this cold “I’m going to find you and kill you” shit to an empty room. But no, it isn’t empty’ a foreign voice replies back to Neeson’s threats, “Good luck.” And then we are off with what we are told is a “96 hour window to find her”: Neeson rushes into his ex-wife’s mansion, tells her the news (and more importantly shows her that she was in the WRONG), catches a plane to Paris, chats up hookers, enhances digital photos on public service providers to grab details of a suspect, uses nervous translators, plants tracking devices, impersonates a cop, and then basically breaks the neck of every Albanian he comes across. Seriously they should have retitled Taken as Liam Neeson Punches You In The Neck. Every variation of that vicious move is used over the remaining hour of the film; Neeson karate-chopping dudes in the Adam’s apple, Neeson snapping back heads of dudes until they go crack, Neeson twisting their necks until they slump over forwards, etc.

Y’see, Taken is one of those movies where the hero has a moral imperative (I must save my daughter and restore the nuclear family) that overrides any ethical considerations (Yes, it’s cool to torture a dude to death because he was an Albanian slave trader and was SCUM!). The apex of this vicious attitude is when Neeson pops around the French cop who was a former associate and friend that is nervous about his presence in France. No surprise that this French cop (imaginative named Jean-Claude) is as crooked as an outhouse door. So, Neeson sits down to dinner with Jean-Claude with Jean-Claude’s nicey-nice wife serving the food and spills the suspicions, calling out the French cop on his association with the Albanian sex slave industry. Jean Claude pulls out a gun but FUCK YOU MOTHERFUCKER, Neeson knew where your gun was and took out the bullets ahead of time! So then Neeson pulls out his gun and instead of hurting Jean Claude in an effort to achieve information, he turns it on the pleasant wife and caps her in the shoulder! “It’s just a flesh wound,” he reassures Jean Claude before beating him up for the info. NEESON IS ONE IMPRESSIVELY COLD MOTHERFUCKER!

The action sequences are tightly cut and forceful, particularly when Neeson wipes out a whole room of Albanians to catch a crook on the basis of a vocal comparison with his recording of the foreign kidnapper telling him, "Good luck". Then there’s the climax where Neeson races a boat with a stolen car and despite our hopes of hopes does not launch the car off a bridge onto the boat. Instead, he jumps off the bridge and obliterates every Albanian dude on the frigging thing, throwing them through windows, shooting their toes off, and even facing off against a worthy opponent who uses a curvy blade that is used against him when Neeson hooks it into the guy’s stomach. And then Neeson is reunited with his daughter whose virginity is assured (it increased her price in the bidding room, y'see) and who will probably be haunted by psychological trauma from her horrifying ideal, but it's all cool because DADDY'S HERE! And then before you know it they are back home in the Good ole US of A! So, yes, if you are an American whose daughter is kidnapped by ethnics, it seems like you have permission to kill every swarthy dude you can and not have to face any official inquiry into the death and destruction you have created. Because of this xenophobic attitude and adherence to the rightness of the patriarch authority that shows no quarter, Taken is a pretty reprehensible film and has been taken very seriously by some film critics (Gene Shalitt for instance) as a warning. But it’s also an undeniably goddamned satisfying action film and ensures Neeson’s performance can comfortably sit alongside the works of Charles Bronson. My advice: Taken needs another sequel where Neeson has another family ala Death Wish II and has to rescue his new daughter from the Russian mafia or another race of people who have plenty of moustaches to show off and necks to snap..


Matt C said...

I sincerely hope that the sequel is called Taken 2: Liam Neeson Punches You In The Neck

s said...

I would definitely watch that sequel. I am still a bit amazed at how this was not the worst thing I have ever seen. All signs pointed to bad. But extreme violence I guess saved the day! Also probably the amount of recent Nic Cage films we've seen. Yay punches in the neck.

dan said...

this movie gave me everything i wanted, almost constantly, for almost the entire running time.

the sequel should be called: You Are Wrong About Liam Neeson, He Can Snap Bones At A Rate Of Knots.

i was so surprised!!

Jrrd said...

Man, I love it when they give you a nice guilt free premise before rolling out the deathenating. It's like eating bacon after going for a jog.

erika said...

Liam Neeson Punches You in the Neck is the best film I have ever seen. It's a rollercoaster of excitement. It meets your every expectation. And then Neeson punches some guy in the neck.

the-person said...

I keel over with laughter everytime I read Liam Neeson Punches You In The Neck. I will forever refer to this film as that from now on. It could be a drinking game, neck punch-take a shot!