November 25, 2018
Taken (2008)
Grade: 70/100

Director: Pierre Morel
Stars: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen

What it's about. Liam Neeson is a retired special operations tough guy, deep into middle age. He is divorced from hottie brunette Famke Janssen. Their improbably beautiful and nice daughter, Maggie Grace, is coming of age. Janssen has remarried an extremely wealthy man, Xander Berkeley.

Neeson is an obsessive father, and becomes concerned when he learns that Grace is planning a trip to Europe with her fellow teenager best friend, Katie Cassidy. Despite his worries, the two leave anyway, and because it is a movie, they are promptly kidnapped by the worst immigrant criminal gang, whose modus operandi is to hook teen girls on narcotics until they become submissive, then turn them into street pimps or sell them as sex slaves to the highest bidder.

Lucky for Grace, her dad is motivated to come to France to rescue her. He is as invincible as Bruce Lee, and the criminals do not stand a chance. Neeson has to do it alone, since French law enforcement is on the take and would prefer that Neeson leave the country instead of embarrassing them with his criminal carnage.

Because it is a movie, Neeson can kill 35 people and return to the U.S. with his fully recovered daughter as if he had instead spent the past few days admiring paintings and statues at the Louvre. It's not murder if your daughter's virginity is on the line.

How others will see it. Critics were not overwhelmed by Taken, the film that earned Neeson an unlikely second career as an action movie star. It failed to receive nominations from the Oscars, Golden Globes, or BAFTA.

No matter. It was a huge box office hit, with a worldwide gross of more than ten times its budget. Today at, Taken has a ginormous 529K user votes and a lofty 7.8 out of 10 user rating, which is fairly consistent across all demographics.

Thus the difference between expectations and reality. The critics expect a formulaic and exploitative action movie. Which it certainly is, but it's good anyway, and has some really tidy film editing.

The user reviews are effusive. One writer states, "Step aside Bond and Bourne... Liam is better!" He's right. It must be the hair dye.

How I felt about it. Of course the movie is completely improbable. 55-year old Liam Neeson, who looks like he skips the gym to read the newspaper, should not be subduing men half his age in a manner of seconds. Most egregious is the scene where Neeson, speaking Irish English, passes for a French police investigator on the take, insults several Albanian street criminals until they have their guard up, then literally turns the tables on them and kills them all (plus additional heavies outside the room) within a minute.

But except for the skeptical folks at Rotten Tomatoes, who disbelieve the Schindler's List star as an AARP version of Jason Bourne, nobody seems to care. They simply enjoy the show, as Neeson single-handedly eliminates an entire ring of swarthy foreigner kidnapper-pimps who had it coming.

Just to show how ruthless Neeson is in his quest to save his daughter's virginity despite all odds, he shoots an innocent woman, the wife of a crooked police detective. "It's only a flesh wound."

But one has to admit, it sure beats Death Wish (1974), and, really, the vast majority of theatrical releases. Grim Neeson is a good actor, of course, but true credit obviously belongs to Pierre Morel, the cinematographer turned action film director. Apparently, thinking about how to frame the shot all those years paid off when it came time to actually call the shots.

Taken already has two sequels, and a television series based on the movie is in its second season. I have not seen the sequels, and they appear to be less promising than the original, based on their lower user ratings. Although Forest Whitaker is in the third movie, and he is reliable. Perhaps on some distant rainy day, I will make the sequels a double feature.