Produced by Luc Besson, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, India Osborne
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Xander Berkeley, Katie Cassidy, Olivier Rabourdin
Taken is the story of two teenaged American girls snatched by sex traffickers before they can even unpack on a holiday in Paris. Under the aegis of screen-writer/producer Luc Besson, responsible for Nikita, The Fifth Element and The Professional among others, this French production is a fast-paced, white-knuckle ride that rarely lets up and provides plenty of violence.
Former American spy Bryan (Liam Neeson) has given up his career to be near his daughter, 17 year-old Kim (Maggie Grace) in Los Angeles. His marriage to Lenore (Famke Janssen) is already a casualty to his old life and she’s now married to Stuart (Xander Berkeley). Rich, affable Stuart seems able to provide everything for Bryan’s former wife and daughter that he could not. And while Bryan seems an over-protective father, it’s his habit to be careful and thorough in finding out as much information as he can about everything that concerns her. When Kim pleads for Bryan’s permission to go to Paris for a holiday with her 18-year-old friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) he eventually succumbs to his daughter’s sulks and tears and his ex-wife’s expostulations that Kim has to learn about the world on her own. Knowing about the world and its dangers, this doesn’t calm Bryan down, and Kim’s teenage excitement diverts her from keeping her agreement to ring him on arrival. His anxious phone call to her intercepts Kim and Amanda being snatched, and from then on the action is non-stop as he applies all his skills in ruthless determination to find them.
Liam Neeson is an actor noted for mild roles, albeit with significant presence. He’s a surprisingly explosive action hero in the mould of Mel Gibson in Ransom and Bruce Willis in Live Free and Die Hard though without any of the wisecracking humour or spectacular sight gags of the latter. He’s deadly serious and deadly in action, amped up by the 96-hour window that’s crucial to find kidnapped sex traffic victims. As the body count of nefarious types rises, he also faces a suspiciously laissez-faire reluctance to take on the Albanian kidnappers from a former opposite number in French security, Jean Claude (Olivier Rabourdin).
The genre demands the characterisation be sketched in broad-stroked contrasts and no intellect on the part of the viewer is required. Fast chases and excessive violence are the main focus, while the movie’s dark look suits the seedy underworld. There’s plenty of shock value in the gritty reality of drug-controlled brothels and the shadowy secrecy of up-market sex-slave auctions. In this world, torture, extreme prejudice and callous disregard are just a means to an end. The stark images owe much to the director, erstwhile cinematographer Pierre Morel.
Bryan’s breathtaking pursuit of the girls follows them from the deceptively friendly Peter who offers a lift to likely candidates at the airport and sets up the snatch, to the hard brutality of the Albanian kidnappers. It’s in sharp distinction to the sleazy opulence of the obese Middle Eastern buyer who pays an outrageous sum for the ‘guaranteed pure’ Kim. It also offers a bleak inevitability for all the other victims of this burgeoning industry who are not lucky enough to have Bryan as their saviour.
© Avril Carruthers 28th June 2008
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