While vacationing in Paris, cute American tourist Kim Mills (Maggie Grace) and her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) make a mistake by sharing their cab with the smooth-talking Peter (Nicolas Giraud). Turns out, Peter is a procurer of naïve young girls for a ruthless gang of international sex traffickers. These men break into the apartment and snatch Amanda while Kim hollers down the phone to her estranged father, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson). After advising Kim that her best chance for survival is to go along with the kidnappers, Bryan warns their leader he will hunt them down. To which the villain replies: “Good luck.” Big mistake, because Bryan is a frighteningly hard-edged, ex-C.I.A. agent who proceeds to track, maim, torture and kill these scumbags in a desperate search for his missing daughter.
Fans of 24 might feel a twinge of deja-vu, given this Luc Besson-produced Euro action-thriller features an imperilled teenager called Kim and her relentless secret agent father. However, Taken is also another variation on Besson’s favoured pairing of fatherly assassin with winsome waif, carrying echoes of Leon (1995) and Wasabi (2001) in its idiosyncratic mix of sentimentality and sadism; a heartfelt family message juxtaposed with scenes of Liam Neeson kicking ass. Co-written with regular collaborator Robert Mark Kamen, the script has some cheesy elements and dialogue, but wisely takes time to establish the loving relationship between dad and daughter that provides an emotional core.
Like Besson’s Kiss of the Dragon (2002), this is essentially a glossy exploitation movie and beneath its sleek surface not too different from a mid-Eighties Cannon film. As with your typical Charles Bronson vehicle, the film flirts uneasily with right wing ideology in its hero’s use of torture and an arsenal of Tom Clancy techno-porn gadgetry upon East-European and Middle Eastern bad guys. Although Brian’s ruthlessness is excused too easily, with irredeemably vile villains portrayed in broad strokes, scenes such as when he zaps one unlucky sex trafficker with a few thousand volts offer guilty thrills. The sole misstep occurs when he blithely shoots the wife of a friend-turned-conspirator (“Please apologise to her for me”).
Attacking his part with tremendous ferocity, Liam Neeson relishes the best role he has had in ages, hinting at the kind of James Bond he might have made fifteen years earlier. It is great fun to watch him take a room full of Albanian gangsters apart or sweat through a brutal fight with a knife-wielding assassin, although this becomes pretty much a one-man show, leaving actors like Famke Janssen as his weepy ex-wife, Xander Berkley as her millionaire husband and Holly Valance as a sexy pop starlet whose life Bryan saves, struggling to make an impression.
Cinematographer-turned-director Pierre Morel made a big splash with District 13 (2004) and while this film has its share of implausibilities, he prevents it from lapsing into brain-dead mode and keeps things pacey and gripping. The breakneck car chases and visceral thrills are well-staged, with Bryan’s final raid on a bloated billionaire’s yacht offering the most sustained excitement.