What's good about this film is that all of this is true, and more. Taken is not a perfect film, but it does offer something stronger, tougher, darker and more driven than most Hollywood action films.
The film sees Liam Neeson playing an ex-agent of some kind, it doesn't really matter what agency he belongs to, in fact it's even better to not know and just to know that he and his team were contractors and were pretty serious guys, something we witness early on as he rejoins them for a one off job protecting a singer. As she leaves a concert a knife wielding man attacks her and he not only protects her and disarms him but damn fast and incredibly quickly. This is a man to be reckoned with.
He's given up that life now and is living close to his daughter and ex-wife who is now living with another man. Their relationship is far from strong and Neeson's character is desperately trying to repair his relationship with his daughter which has suffered from his years abroad on missions.
She, however, is far from interested and is more keen to get his permission to head off on her European trip following U2 from concert to concert.
He finally caves and lets her head off on her trip but with some conditions. She has to call him every night and every time she moves location. He even gives her a mobile phone with which to call him.
On the first night away she doesn't call, and he keeps trying to get in touch. Eventually he does and as they talk she witnesses some masked men enter the house and abduct her friend, and then they start making their way to her.
Quickly his training comes into play and he talks her through what to do. “They're going to take you” are the ominous words that he tells her, and she is. She's kidnapped, and he gets his ex-team to find out that who they are, Algerian sex slave traders, he has a limited window to find her before she's sold to a foreign bidder forever. He gets on a plane and heads to Paris to track her down, with the promise that he'll kill whoever took her.
This film seems to know exactly what it is and doesn't waste unnecessary time with areas that aren't relevant to the story. So quickly, within the first few sequences, we find out everything we need to know about the characters and their relationships, as well as some great hints and suggestions about the background of Neeson's character.
I like this, we get everything we need to know and move forward. Of course it doesn't work in every film, and in a film where characters are the forefront this just wouldn't be good enough, but in a film such as Taken it's perfect.
The start also sets up a nice plot thread that stands through the story and comes full circle for the ending all rather nicely, while at the same time shows us just how tough Liam Neeson's character Bryan is. Now we're ready for the film.
The next few sequences we see are the trip to Paris, the arrival, the set-up by the Algerian kidnappers, and the kidnap itself, all set-up really well, and during which we get the first little surprise of the film, of which there are a number.
During the phone call with where Bryan is telling his daughter what to do and where to hide there's a great moment which is made with the scripting, dialogue, music and the tension building in the film. It's also where we see the film go against Hollywood, and it's something that happens a few times in Taken and delivers a little extra punch for the audience.
As his daughter lies under the bed with blind panic in her voice and actions, as the kidnappers draw closer, and the tension is at its highest with the audience, the film gets Bryan to very deliberately say...
“They're going to take you”
This is the first taste of the turn against Hollywood that the film is going to take, it also marked the moment where I thought I had the whole film figured out and that there was a clever twist in there that I had already solved. I was totally wrong, and after the film I felt like I had been pointed in the wrong direction, but to great effect.
I loved that moment of dialogue though. It was pretty unexpected, even though I'd seen it in the trailer before.
From there it does become quite a stock thriller for the first half, but then another surprise happens, and don't worry I'm not spoiling anything for you at all. There's a sequence that starts you thinking that Bryan might be going a little too far, and then he does something that really does shock the audience. It's so against where you think the story will go, a la standard Hollywood fare, that it delivers a blow big enough to break your preconceptions of where the rest of the film is going to go.
However saying that the film is pretty stock for the first half is doing it an injustice, it's very tense and exciting, and Neeson delivers a great performance. Although the shaky-cam, which has become a standard tickbox on the thriller directors checklist in western cinema, is there, it isn't overly used and so you can pretty much follow the action.
That said the latter half of the film does take out the full Bourne cheat checklist and we're seeing close-up shots with multiple, fast edits, and plenty of shaky-cam. I hate this, I really do. It cheats the audience out of seeing the film, and what happens is that you end up playing catch-up with all the shots, realising what has just happened after the fact.
You're also cheated out of any real action as the film-makers take a short action sequence like disarming a bad guy and hitting his head off of a sink to knock him out, and split it into five to ten different shots of very short, deliberate movements which are miles away from anything that looks like action, and edit them together in short, fast cuts, viewed on a small screen. This practice is usually done because the actor just can't perform the action required.
So for most of the fighting sequences the action moves too fast, with cuts, close-ups and blurred movement you're struggling to work out what's happening and you just have to forget it and accept the fact that the scene means good guy fights bad guy and wins.
The worst moment is the elongated car chase. I was watching it and getting more and more bored as the same scene was delivered again and again and I was subjected to something along the lines of – whoosh, blur, flash, blur, flash, whoosh, face, flash, blur, whoosh...and so on.
The scene lasted far too long and was just a mess of nothing, and I found myself wondering why the tension was still managing to be kept up, and it was down to the musical score and fast cuts, and that was all. I really did feel cheated.
Earlier I was saying that it did go against Hollywood for quite a bit of the film, and that's a great aspect. In fact it goes against Hollywood for almost the entire film, except for one particular moment, the “break free” moment.
This really disappointed me. We see Bryan handcuffed to a pipe affixed to the roof and low and behold the pipe is a little loose, how convenient. The whole sequence felt contrived and stood out from the rest of the film, instead playing it by the Hollywood numbers.
The ending of the film was mixed, there was a non-Hollywood moment that fitted well with the film, and then straight into a Hollywood section. I just wish that there had been a little something to break that up a bit.
However, those moments aside this is a great thriller that is unrelenting in the tension and with the drive of the main character. The plot is quite simplistic, but it works a treat and the main character is wonderfully created, unrelenting, no compassion, and dark. Bourne-esque indeed, but with a much more realistic, darker and more adult tone.