Taken: A Refreshing Thriller

If you are anything like us, the following quote alone should get you excited about Taken:

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

Taken, starring Liam Neeson as a former CIA operative hell-bent on regaining his daughter from Albanian sex-slavers, represents the very best of action movies. And, yet, amazingly, this was a movie made in France by the French. What is the world coming to when the French can make better action movies than we can? After all, do you know why Paris has so many trees? Because… the Germans like marching in the shade.

Anyhow, the basic plot is this: long in the business of taking out America’s enemies, Neeson has moved to Los Angeles to rekindle his relationship with his teenage daughter, who has been spoiled by life with her mother and very rich stepfather. Neeson has always made a big deal of being there for his daughter’s birthdays, and this year what she really wants from him is permission to go to Europe. When he hesitates, his ex-wife thinks his career has made him paranoid, but he informs her it has simply made him aware. Eventually he caves to his (rather annoying) daughter so she and a friend jet off to Europe, promising to call as soon as they get there.

It’s easy to see where this story was heading: within hours of arriving, the girls are kidnapped by a sophisticated Albanian sex-slave operation. Luckily, Neeson’s daughter was on the phone with dad during the taking, and he was able to pass along the gem quoted above to the kidnapper. Masterfully surveying the situation, Neeson borrows his ex-wife’s new husband’s jet to Paris and takes the next 96 hours to slice his way through the Albanians, French middlemen, corrupt officials, and Arab clients.

What makes Taken so great? Its brutal efficiency: Neeson is neither redemptive nor self-reflective. He goes out there and does what is necessary, because he does not have the time nor will to do otherwise. He’s like a panther stalking its prey—he doesn’t need to engage in witty dialogue (or much of any dialogue, for that matter). And what’s particularly refreshing, in contrast, to say, the Bourne trilogy, is that this movie is not anti-American in the least.

The final great thing about Taken is that you are never quite sure whether Liam Neeson will get his daughter back. But you do know, whatever her state, the bad guys will pay. And Neeson is willing to do whatever it takes to reach his final goal. Dealing with one suspect, Neeson shoots the man’s wife in the arm and remarks, “It’s a flesh wound. But if you don’t get me what I need, the last thing you’ll see before I make your children orphans is the bullet I put between her eyes.” PG, this is not.

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