You have to give Taken the same level of suspension of disbelief that you allow movies like Transporter 1, 2 and 3. It helps to know that the writers of those movies (Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen) wrote Taken. Or Pierre Morel was cinematographer on the first Transporter and his directorial debut (Banlieu 13) was a well-received French action flick. Thus you have lots of death-defying driving-under, over, around and through impossible obstacles, conducted on terrain so bumpy that no normal car could survive. (Notice all the plugs for Audi.)
Plus a whole chain of bad guys – each one nastier and more and more armed than the previous one. Each is dispatched in a cleverly disgusting way – shot, knifed, garroted, karate chopped, electrocuted, thrown overboard or smashed by a semi on the freeway. Be assured, these bad guys are really evil monsters, so in the rules of action movies they deserve what they get and more. In other words, Taken is not for the squeamish, or for those who think justice should be meted out in a courtroom.
What takes Taken out of the ordinary death-a-minute action flick is Liam Neeson’s performance. He’s not your martial arts dancing Joe Vengeance. He’s a grief-stricken father, facing a parent’s worst nightmare. Though past his prime, Mills must perform the feats of a young man, by himself, struggling against the barriers of language and the power of a widespread conspiracy. In between the action, which is nearly non-stop, Director Morel wisely has the camera linger for a few seconds on Neeson’s chiseled Irish visage, allowing the actor precious moments to express his silent anguish and for us in the audience to appreciate the reaction that such a face makes on us.
Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, Breakfast on Pluto) is a retired CIA agent who has moved to L.A. to be near his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, The Jane Austen Book Club). In his long service to the country, Mills was usually separated from Kim and her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen, X-Men: The Last Stand). Lenore threw in the towel with Mills and found a new husband, one who is home all the time and very, very rich. Kim doesn’t seem to have suffered from the divorce, enjoying all the perks that stepdad bestows on her, but Mills keeps trying, sometimes pathetically, to be a part of her life.
Seventeen-year-old Kim needs her father’s permission to leave the country, to go to Paris with her friend Amanda, unchaperoned. (Don’t ask why any parent would allow such a thing in this day and age–suspension of disbelief, remember.) Mills, paranoid on principle, reluctantly agrees, on condition that Kim call him every nigh with the programmed cell phone he gives her.
Upon landing at the Paris airport, the giggly teens meet a cute French boy, who offers to share a cab ride with them–thus finding out where they are staying. A short while later, as Kim is on the phone with her father, she sees men enter the apartment and brutally kidnap Amanda. Terrified, she follows her father’s phone instructions and tries to hide under a bed, but she is discovered and dragged out screaming. Before the kidnappers destroy the phone, they can hear Mills warn them if they harm his daughter, “I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.”
The chase is on. Using his old CIA contacts, Mills learns the girls have been kidnapped by notorious Albanian sex traffickers and, according to the Paris police, if he doesn’t find them within 96 hours, they will be force-addicted to heroin, sold to the highest bidder and gone forever. It’s similar to the sleazy, horrifying world depicted in Eastern Promises, which was set in London among Russian sex traffickers. Here in Paris, the villains have a wider range of personalities and ethnic backgrounds and the locations range from crowded tenement to Napoleonic magnificence to yachts on the Seine.
There’s no time to gather a trained team like he had in the old days–Mills must do everything on his own. From one maddeningly elusive clue to another, he traces the steps of Kim’s abduction, finding along the way inutterable misery among other victims who have no fathers to save them. Behind the preposterous adrenaline rush of the movie lurks the nauseating reality of the sex trafficking that does indeed go on in other countries. The tragic truth is that few if any of the kidnapped women escape. Most die from overdoses or torture within a few years. If nothing else, Taken presents a memorable screen hero who tells the story the dead women cannot.