Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Taken

 
 
 

Review by Eoin O’Faolain

With every success come the followers, clinging on to coattails, eager to nab a piece of the popularity. Sometimes that can lead to worth changes- just look how genres mutate based on key films. So does Taken, the latest action movie, deeply derivative of the Bourne series style of convulsing-cam stunts and fights, stand up to or add anything interesting to the innovative and exciting originator?

 You’d think Liam Neeson’s presence would help. He plays Bryan Mills, a special forces agent who has retired from his tactical ways, so that he can bond with his teenage daughter Kim more. But when little Kim takes a trip to Europe, staying in Paris, despite Mills’s warnings, Kim gets kidnapped. So it’s time to whip out those weapons (mainly left fist and right fist), and beat some bad-guy ass to get his girl back.

 If it sounds silly, that’s because it is. Taken, in premise and talent, has all the potential to be a satisfyingly edgy thriller, with Pierre Morel (of parkour action flick Banlieue 13) directing and Luc Besson (Leon, The Fifth Element) writing and producing. And of course Neeson himself, who was one of the best actors around in the 90’s, and even recently as Kinsey and in the forthcoming Five Minutes of Heaven. Alas, the film is only a fraction of its elements.

 As an action movie, it simply doesn’t stand up. It’s as formulaic as you can get, and adopts the Bourne style for no particular reason except for self-promotion. Shaky-cams gave Bourne an edge to it, but that was solidified by appropriately banal dialogue and plenty of agency-speak. Here, we get shaky-cam and the most clichéd crap you’ve ever heard spewed out of an actor’s mouth. So what we get is a clash between new-style action and old-school 80’s cheese, creating a tension which never sits well. Not to mention that the shaky-cam sequences are more confusing than tense, like in one scene where Neeson drives through a quarry, chased by men in a vehicle so similar that you don’t know who is who. It also doesn’t help when Neeson’s “skills” swing from being able to memorize and recognise a man’s voice over a crackling phone line and connect it to the real person, beating up armies of men, and then getting sucker punched walking out of a door.

 But the true insult is the deep racism inherent in the film. As much as one should view a character as an individual, and not a people, Taken just goes too far. Every single foreign person is despicable. The only good people are the Americans, such as Neeson and his supportive covert ops buddies, or even his ex-wife. Which is ironic, because Neeson is from Northern Ireland, and it’s written and directed by Frenchmen. But the racism is there. The Eastern Europeans are all kidnapping pimps. The French are in on it, including high figures in the police who are accepting bribes. The Middle Easterners are buying the kidnapped girls. There’s not one moral non-American in the film. Even the Indian salesman at the film’s start (in the USA) is a deceiver, convincing Neeson that some cheap karaoke machine is Britney Spears’ top choice and thus a perfect present for his daughter.  

The only saving grace in the movie is Neeson, who does his very best to portray his sense of loss and furious determination, negotiating the clunks of the script as much as humanly possible. Unfortunately, his talent is balanced against Maggie Grace’s performance as Kim. It may be the director’s fault, but she is so irritatingly tweenie that you actually don’t want to see her rescued in the end, and have to face seeing her bounce around the room one more time in faux-teenage glee. 

Taken may indeed be racist (and it is), and it may indeed be badly performed (and it is), but the true problem is that as an action flick, it at best feels like a hollow imitation of something better, and at worst feels like a bet Luc Besson made that he could make the most trite action flick imaginable and make money from it.

1/ 5 stars

 

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