Ok, allow me to rant a little here. I’ve yet to peruse the French and American critical response to this film, but I’ve seen all the reviews from my colleagues here in Quebec, and this has gotten me a little pissed. Not Bryan Mills-pissed, but pissed nonetheless. You see, I liked “Taken”, they didn’t – that part’s fine. The flick is hardly an undeniable masterpiece I’ll go to the mat defending, just a lean and mean little B-movie which happens to a bit more clever and emotionally charged than you’d expect, in no small part because the hero is played not by your average Jason Statham-type grunt, but by the great Liam Neeson, who elevates everything along with him.
Still, I can see why someone wouldn’t necessarily enjoy this as much as me, to each his own, etc. What I do take issue with is the derisive condescension most Quebec critics have manifested towards it and its makers, giving away the feeling that they’re all like, “Of course it sucks, coming from these French hacks!” What the fuck, right? Again, one doesn’t have to love writer-producer Luc Besson, but how can you not at least appreciate that as far as action filmmaking goes, the guy knows his shit? I certainly don’t like everything he’s been associated with, but he’s given me many hours of solid entertainment over the years, not to mention a few truly great movie experiences. And then you’ve got director Pierre Morel, who’s only the dude behind “Banlieue 13”, one of the best and most influential action flicks of the last decade. So who are these critics to mockingly dismiss Besson and Morel’s latest collaboration?
Anyway, enough about that. Let’s assume that you, the reader, can actually appreciate kick-ass action scenes, tough-guy bravado and old-school, straightforward storytelling reminiscent of 1980s Hollywood action films in general and my beloved “Commando” in particular. Like in that classic of badass cinema, the plot basically revolves around a father’s desperate quest to retrieve his kidnapped daughter – and bring major pain to those who took her. Because like John Matrix, Schawarzenegger’s character in “Commando”, Neeson’s Bryan Mills happens to be a retired Special Ops officer, and when his girl goes missing, his old instincts instantly kick back in.
One big difference between the two movies is that while it takes barely 2 minutes before things get going in “Commando” and it’s non-stop action after that, “Taken” takes more time to set things up and allows for more character development and slow-burn tension throughout. In fact, it’s more a drama with quick bursts of action than anything. Neeson is far from being an hilariously unsubtle and unthinking brute à la Schwarzenegger, he’s more like a Jason Bourne: smart, methodical, precise, attentive to details… Likewise, the action sequences have that Bourne efficiency, both in the nervy camera and cutting and in Neeson’s fighting style. Here’s a man who knows just where to hit somebody so they go down, and where to hit them so they stay down, and it generally only takes him seconds to make it happen!
Another interesting thing is that the villains aren’t token terrorists, gangsters or whatnot. They’re Albanian bastards who prey on unsuspecting young women traveling in Paris, kidnap them, drug them then force them into sexual slavery. And as you probably know, as horrible as it sounds, the worse is that this isn’t far from the truth, which may in fact be even worse at times… Let’s just say that when Neeson beats, guns down or tortures these motherfuckers, they damn well have it coming.
So there you have it: maybe not high art, but a solid flick that delivers exactly what it promises. If you can’t appreciate that, well, no biggie, I’m sure there’s an artsy-fartsy Oscar-bait literary adaptation waiting for you in one of the other theaters. I’ll stick with Liam Neeson going all “Darkman” on us again.