Every movie ever made can be separated into one of two categories: those that are meant to be enjoyed and those that are meant to be revered – the former are usually the moneymakers while the latter are usually the award winners. Taken, the 2008 film by director Pierre Morel, is one of those movies that is meant to be loved not respected. It isn’t original or believable but rather the deliciously greasy McDonald’s-type fare that, though it may be ultimately bad for your health, is satiating and addictive. You can’t help but admire the filmmaker’s devil-may-care attitude toward how junky the final product is, Morel akin to a blissfully happy chain-smoking pulmonary oncologist. Taken is a ridiculous, impact-driven joyride that doesn’t try to proselytize its viewers into thinking its some Oscar-magnet but instead welcomes those willing to just shut up and enjoy what’s in front of them.
Taken is the impossible tale of former CIA renaissance man Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) who, when we first meet him, is meandering through his quasi-retirement trying to make up for lost time with his estranged seventeen year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), hovering like a world-weary trained-killer father would. When she begs permission to travel to Europe with a friend he is reluctant, but after some cajoling and a few holier-than-thou eye rolls from his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), Mills relents. But his trepidations prove justified when his daughter and her friend are abducted by a group of Albanian thugs in the sex-trade business. Mills immediately switches into killer mode and jets across the Atlantic to leave a trail of bullets on the road to revenge and finding his baby girl. Anyone who enjoys the punch-line of Man on Fire, then they will enjoy this one – its an improvement on the revenge trope, especially considering they give the helpless and squealing teenager the minimum amount of necessary screen time to make Neeson’s turbo-charged daddy rampage plausible.
In a time when everyone seems to have the intrinsic need to feel not just special but more special than everyone else out there and those people search for escapism in a testosterone-imbued fantasy sort of way, movies like Taken will always be in fresh supply. And I’m glad – yes, in part because watching über-macho and totally absurd movies is tons of fun, but mostly because of Liam Neeson. No one, not even him probably, could have guessed just how spectacular an action badass he would be. He is the center of gravity of Taken holding together everything that is preposterous and unfeasible. No matter what antics he gets himself into as Mills, the one-man wrecking machine, he doesn’t carry with him the pretentiousness and the egotism of other bog-budget action heroes, contemporary or otherwise. He manages to remain human and purposeful without being stereotypically bloated – Neeson’s character is almost like Jason Bourne if Bourne were a sixty-something former boxer with a grumbling Brogue. Watching Neeson as Mills tear through construction sites and beat the pulp out of a group of armed criminals and bending the laws of physics to his whim could be its own pastime, its that much fun – it could be called Neeson-watching.