From director Pierre Morel (District B13) and writer Luc Besson (The Professional and District B13) comes Taken, an action film so simply and straightforward that it’s hard to believe it came from the same people. But part of the beauty of the film is how it takes a genre that has progressively become more ridiculous and convoluted and stripped it down to its bare elements, providing a simple framework upon which to hang the action.
Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) is a retired government agent who has settled down in order to spend more time with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). But it’s not quite as ideal as he expected, mainly due to his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) who is hostile to his presence in Kim’s life. It also doesn’t help that he’s overprotective of her and had misgivings about letting Kim go to Paris over the summer. He eventually gives in, expressing his misgivings and setting down some strict guidelines, only to have his worst nightmare come true when Kim is kidnapped. Now he’s on a mission to tear down Paris to find his daughter.
The real beauty of Taken is how straightforward it is. There isn’t but one subplot or any attempts to develop ancillary characters. Nor is there any kind of comedic sidekick that usually makes it way into such action flicks. It’s a simple, serious film about Liam Neeson kicking ass, taking names and killing all fools who get in his way. And really, do you need more than that?
But before the film takes us on this tirade of fatherly vengeance it spends a good amount of time developing the emotional groundwork for the picture. It does an effective job at building this relationship between father and daughter that makes us care about them. Yes, Maggie Grace plays the bubbly seventeen year old girl but it comes across as cute instead of annoying. And Maggie Grace has played annoying before as Shannon in “Lost.”
The relationship between the two isn’t ideal. Bryan gave up his job to spend more time with her but never seems to get enough time to make a real connection. He’s got his problems to be sure but unlike modern action heroes he’s not conflicted. He’ll do whatever it takes to get his daughter and isn’t above doing some morally questionable things to find her. But he’s not some coldhearted bastard. When a badguy tells him it was just business Brian says “It was all personal to me.“
It’s curious that this film has no real “badguy.” There are certainly badguys but there’s not one individual who is vilified as Brian’s main opponent. The simple reason behind it is because Brian is far more skilled and resourceful than his opponents and no one is going to stand against him for too long. One could argue it makes for a less interesting conflict as his obstacles are almost always logistical as opposed to the six armed gunmen on his tail but I admire the straightforward approach.
And keeping with this line of reasoning the action is fairly simple. There’s no shaky camera work, flashy edits or artistic lighting. It shoots most everything in a clear manner, allowing you to get a good sense of the setting of each action piece. The set-pieces themselves are never that complex but once again that’s part of the elegance of the film. It’s not groundbreaking or technically impressive like The Bourne Ultimatum but it’s solid and entertaining.
And solid and entertaining is the best way to describe this film. Yes it’s a simple picture, perhaps too simple, but what it does it does very well. There’s no attempt at innovation or freshness, it’s all about the execution. Taken is easily the most simplistic of the films I’ve seen this month but that’s part of the reason I ended up liking the film. It’s about the effective action and Liam Neelson kicking ass for two hours. Many action films try to do more and the usually do it poorly and there’s something to be said for keeping it simple.
© 2009 James Blake Ewing