Sometimes when a movie chimes with the public is goes from being a box office success to becoming part of popular culture. The Taken franchise has done exactly that and a piece of iconic dialogue has now become a perennial internet meme. But if you look beyond this “baggage” and subsequently judge the film by the standards of the genre, you’ll find there’s more than meets the eye. On paper Taken is a fairly formulaic thriller. But it boasts a more interesting pedigree than other movies of this kind. Written by Luc Besson and directed by Pierre Morel (of District 13 fame), the action driven story set in Paris, has all the benefits that come from a European production. But the most intriguing aspect of Taken is the casting of the lead character Bryan Mills. Instead of relying on a known action star, the part ended up with Oscar nominated actor Liam Nesson. As you can imagine, the results are not as you would expect and as a result a serious actor re-invented himself as an action star.
Bryan Mills (Liam Nesson), a retired US government agent, is trying to rebuild his relationship with his 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) who lives with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and her new husband. Kim, despite her father’s concerns, takes a trip to Paris with her friend Amanda on the pretext of seeing the sights. Her real motive is to follow U2 as they tour Europe. However, events take a bad turn when both girls are abducted by the Albanian Mafia who intend to sell them into slavery. But they do not realise that Kim's Father has a unique set of skills gained from his former line of work. He subsequently brings them to bear in rescuing his daughter. Naturally mayhem follows.
The plot is simple and doesn’t attempt to re-invent the wheel. There are numerous logical flaws, and some may argue that Taken trivialises the issue of human trafficking. But this is an action film and therefore its not obliged to serve as a serious analysis on contemporary social problems. What it does have is a lead actor who is skilled in his craft, bringing an element of credibility and gravitas to a genre known for poor performances. There is also the advantage of a French director who approaches the subject with a little more respect than average US studio. There is no smug humour, designed to mitigate the violence. There is also no moral agenda, self-justification or a requirement for redemption. The characters do what they do and are what they are.
Taken has its flaws. It ignores the laws of a sovereign nation and has an ending similar to that of the 1979 action film Ashanti, which also dealt with modern day slavery. But it also has exceptionally plausible fight scenes using credible techniques. Fight choreographer Olivier Schneider (Transporter, Kiss of The Dragon and District 13) utilises throat punches, wrist and elbow locks, along with realistic knife usage and accurate gun stances. Liam Neeson, an ex-boxer who is well over 6 foot, acquits himself well for a man of his age (he was 56 at the time of shooting). Taken and its subsequent sequels were all edited for a PG-13 rating when released theatrically in the US. However, uncut versions are available on DVD and Blu-ray and it is these editions that action fans should seek out.