Friday, May 29, 2009

Nobody's Going to Sell My Kid!

DVD via Redbox

For a proud and unapologetic representative of that genre of action movies whose entire casts, plots, complications, and resolutions can be easily extrapolated from their 30-second TV spots, Taken is about twice as good as it has any business being. A lot of its charm is in how it doesn't have any higher ambitions -- compared to say, Vantage Point it has absolutely no new ideas, but it's way more effective a film because it doesn't repeat itself or run any scenes longer than they have to go. It also has the distinction of being a nearly two-hour movie that feels like it whips by faster than a twenty-minute "American Dad" episode.

Most of the credit for that belongs to Liam Neeson, who's on camera or heard in a voiceover for almost every single second. Maggie Grace also deserves a mention, for being almost totally unrecognizable from her "Lost" role and for being lovable enough in her few minutes of setup screen time to make you understand why daddy Neeson goes completely berserk when sketchy Albanians nab her off the streets of Paris. Director Pierre Morel adopts the perspective of Neeson's Bryan Mills from the first -- there are no ethical dilemmas whatsoever in Taken. That's the appeal of Neeson's performance as he becomes the scourge of the French underworld. You see movie parents plead that they will do anything to protect their children, but few have ever walked the walk like Bryan Mills. Essentially living in a world with two people in it, exactly one of whose life he values, the concept of collateral damage doesn't trouble this guy for even a second.

This whole film reminded me in plot of Tony Scott's underrated Man on Fire, with Neeson in the Denzel Washington role and Grace as Dakota Fanning. Only Taken utterly removes the self-doubt and haunted memories with which Denzel invested his action antihero. Neeson's pulse rate never raises as he electrocutes lowlifes, hotwires cars, performs field surgery on drug-addled Euro-prostitutes, and stalks into rooms full of murderous gangbangers unarmed. He's force personified, Jack Bauer without even a president to whom he answers. Very few actors could do this sort of thing anywhere near this believably. Neeson knows that the trick is not to never show emotion, but rather only to show emotion during the brief times his superagent can afford to do so without getting himself killed. He's so professional he even schedules in little grief interludes, I bet, in between hiring Albanian translators and exacting revenge on the predictably duplicitous French Kevin Spacey. (Not the actual Spacey affecting an accent but the actually French Olivier Rabourdin channeling.)

I doubt you'll remember much if anything about it two days after but if you like one-man army action movies (and have already seen Man on Fire, which will stay with you much longer) you could do worse.

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