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Movies Review

Taken

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Taken
Released on Sunday, Sep 28 2008

Director: Pierre Morel
Screenwriters: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Olivier Rabourdin, Xander Berkeley
Running Time: 94 mins
Certificate: 15

He may be in his mid-50s but Liam Neeson shows no signs of slowing down in this hyperkinetic thriller from French writer-producer Luc Besson. Move over, Harrison Ford… The craggy Irishman stops just short of free-running across the rooftops of Paris as an ex-CIA agent on the trail of Albanian slave traders who have abducted his daughter (Maggie Grace). Of course it is all utter nonsense, but director Pierre Morel vaults over gaps in logic with such speed and joyously reckless abandon that you don’t have a moment to think about it.

Still, it does take a while before Morel hits his stride. Early on, he gets bogged down in a lot of soapy family drama, introducing Bryan (Neeson) as an overprotective father and a bitter divorcee who quarrels with his ex (Famke Janssen) over the best way to raise their daughter. On top of that, he must tolerate the interjections of her smarmy new husband (Xander Berkely). He reckons Bryan’s career exploits with the CIA have made him acutely paranoid about what lies around every corner. And he appears to be proved right. When Kim announces plans to spend the summer travelling across Europe, Bryan has a total meltdown.

Between domestic spats, Morel shows us a teasing glimpse of the brutal violence Bryan is capable of as he plays bodyguard to a pop princess (Holly Valance) and fends off a stalker. But it’s not until Kim arrives in Paris that a real sense of urgency starts to build. Kim is on the phone, assuring dad that everything is just fine, when a couple of men break into the apartment and grab her friend (Katie Cassidy). It is a tense, drawn-out sequence with Kim scrabbling for a place to hide while Bryan calmly prompts her for the information he needs to identify the kidnappers. Inevitably, she is taken and dad hightails it to Paris.

Bryan only packs emotional baggage for the journey. He doesn’t even bring a gun, relying mostly on his hands and a bag of torture tricks (one involving a puddle and some broken electrical wiring) to trace Kim via a network of dodgy ethnic types. Very quickly, he is struck with the appalling realisation that his daughter is the victim of a sex trafficking ring. The story may chime with current concerns about people smuggling through the Eastern Bloc, but Morel is clearly not a filmmaker with a social conscience. If anything, his portrayal of the bad guys as greasy, bushy-browed scum plays into the hysteria surrounding immigration in Europe.

Morel is only concerned with gritty realism when it comes to the visuals. He uses a roving camera to get in amongst the action and closes in tight on his star for those really bone-crunching moments. It is a purely visceral approach to disturbing subject matter and, on that primitive level, the film does make an impact. Thankfully, in the middle of all this blood spatter, Neeson not only strikes a convincing pose as the middle-aged action hero, but he also manages to lend his character much-needed depth and a subtle air of dignity. The parental anguish that drives him forward is always clearly written on his face. He doesn’t appear to relish the violence and he doesn’t stop to make wisecracks either. The dialogue is functional at best, Bryan’s motives are basic; it’s all apt for this bare-knuckle punch of an action movie.

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