I'm afraid we must again lament the fact that the movie of the week is not available on Netflix Instant. However, the lamentations are for different reasons. Last week I covered a classic action comedy steeped in supernatural tea which would make for a quick laugh and a good time when necessary. Taken, on the other hand, is what you should reach for when your brain needs a direct injection of adrenaline.
Liam Neeson is cast as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA prevention specialist trying to patch up his relationship with his 17-year-old daughter. Being 17 and a little spoiled, she absconds with a friend to Europe to follow U2 on tour. Bryan warns her that precautions should be taken but Kim isn't really interested in such things as much as she is hot rock stars and playing her parents against each other. All that changes, however, when mysterious men break into the Parisian home of her friends' cousins with intent to kidnap the girls. Fortunately, Kim's on the phone with her dad. Preparing her for the worst, the phone is picked up by one of the kidnappers. Bryan says the following:
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.
You can guess what happens next.
Yeah, kidnapping the girl doesn't make Daddy happy.
Casting Liam Neeson in this role was a stroke of genius. Imagine if most other Hollywood actors had taken on this two-fisted unfettered covert operative on a roaring rampage of rescue. From Mel Gibson to Matt Damon, it would have been very difficult for most of them to pull of the consistent, cultured restraint that informs every word Bryan says and every move he makes. It's this behavior, this very focused and very direct method of executing action, that has caused comparisons to arise between this character and 24's Jack Bauer. And we simply wouldn't have that without Liam Neeson. He's fantastic in this role.
He's also what holds the whole affair together. Without his electrifying performance, there wouldn't be much to Taken. I mean, I had to liven up the plot description with some of Liam's lines. The story's as straightforward as they come and you're likely to see most of the turns coming well in advance. But let's face it, you're not here for nuanced and deep storytelling, you're here to watch Liam Neeson make the Paris underworld cry for its mommy.
Daddy ain't happy...
That isn't to say that Taken is dumb, by any means. It's a dead simple premise, sure, and most of the characters are obstacles of one type or another for Liam to overcome with a good punch to the throat. But the way in which the action is executed, the composition of its shots and the lack of shaky-cam acrobatics keep the film grounded, all the better to conduct the aforementioned electricity. The abduction doesn't happen for a good 20 minutes into the film, and all that time is character building for Bryan in a very smart way. It's like seeing a lion at the zoo when it's close to feeding time, the great beast pacing back and forth with barely contained ferocity while still looking majestic. Taken is what happens when that cage is opened after the lion's been poked and prodded a little by fat, annoying tourists.
There are some who might say that it's mere wish fulfillment for fathers who have become estranged from their children and long for the means to prove themselves in a crucible other than long court proceedings and awkward visitation incidents. There's also the fact that Liam Neeson, a white Western European man, is going after Albanians and, at one point, an Arab or two. There are probably some unfortunate implications that can be read into that. However, this is played less for a feeling of jingoistic vengeance than it is for... well, people in Bryan's way who are too dumb to move when he kicks down the door. Color, creed, sex and money mean nothing to this man; come near his family and he will ruin your life, which may not be very long past meeting the man. Meet the man yourself by watching Taken. This character played by this man single-handedly pulls the movie out of the sea of similar action-thrillers and lets it stand on its own as an interesting character piece as well as a very satisfying thrill ride that I highly doubt would leave you disappointed.
Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.