After he finished reading Taken’s screenplay for the first time, Liam Neeson can’t have said to himself, “Wow! What a great script! I want to be in this movie because of the quality of its plot!” The guess is that Neeson instead wanted to headline an action flick; the paycheck probably wasn’t something to sneeze at either. Taken is just about as shallow and predictable a kidnapping thriller as they come. Neeson plays retired CIA operative Bryan Mills, who must be among the best trained and most skilled human beings ever to walk the planet — think James Bond, Rambo and Stephen Hawking all crammed into a tall, lanky Irish frame. Jason Bourne also ought to be added to that list since writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen shamelessly succeed in ripping off the Bourne movies with their intense chase scenes and frenetic editing. However, the huge difference between a film like The Bourne Ultimatum and Taken is the fact that Ultimatum always keeps the viewer oriented to what is going on. Sometimes we follow the perspective of Jason Bourne, since he’s in control, and other times we follow the bad guys because they are one step ahead.
Taken moves way too fast and tries to incorporate way too much action, not caring one bit about perspective. The result is not only exhausting, but it’s also quite disappointing. The viewer is so disoriented watching the chaotic action on screen that he or she cannot appreciate the inherent thrills. Too much energy is necessary in order to keep track of who is chasing who. Though Neeson’s artistic motives for agreeing to be this movie in the first place are pure, he ironically elevates Taken to a level well beyond what it would have been without him. His acting is wonderfully intense and perfectly menacing, and yet, Neeson doesn’t take his character Mills (or himself) too seriously. There are moments in Taken that dive headlong into camp territory, and Neeson appears all too happy to go along for the ride. More than once, Mills battles six or more knife-wielding, gun-toting snarling bad guys and emerges the victor with only a few superficial scratches to show for it. Taken is not an Oscar contender, that’s for sure, and Neeson seems well aware of this with every line he growls.
The story centers around the kidnapping of Mills’ naïve seventeen year old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who is subsequently sold into prostitution as part of a human trafficking ring rooted in Albania. By the way, if you are looking for a movie that actually says something about the injustices of human trafficking, kidnapping, or prostitution, then Taken isn’t the movie for you. Instead, we get inevitable scenes of torture and violence each time Mills conveniently captures a new bad guy. Also, none of the villains live long enough to allow us to distinguish them from each other. The idea of exploiting young women is supposed to be sufficient enough to make us loathe the bad guys and enjoy watching them suffer. We’re even expected to cheer when the innocent wife of a crooked cop is shot in order to extract information leading Mills one step closer to finding his daughter. The poor woman just cooked a delicious dinner for God’s sake! More than anything though, Taken is forgettable; its PG-13 rating stifles the possibility of any scenes resonating on a visceral level. Ultimately, the film fails to define itself apart from the countless better movies it mimics.