Taken (2008)

Dir. Pierre Morel
Starring: Liam Neeson, etc.

Of the people that I think would like this film, Joel, John and Penny top the list. But even with them I wouldn’t urge them to see it. I wavered between a 3 and a 4. I’m pretty confident that on an objective level it is not a good film, but I also watched with some interest through the film (although as the film got close to finishing, I had enough). FWIW, Larri gave this a 6 (and I would predict that action fans would give a rating around there.)

Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA agent, who has retired to be close to his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). The filmmakers do a good job of setting up the relationship between Mills and his daughter–particularly how much Kim means to him. The acting here is very solid, including the performance of Famke Janssen, who plays Mills’ ex-wife. Things heat up when Kim gets kidnapped in Paris by an Albanian sex-trade outfit. Mills has ninety-six hours before his chances of finding his daughter will be virtually impossible. That sounds like a potentially entertaining action film, and as I said the film does a good job of setting up this premise. The problems begin after this set-up.

The two biggest problems I think have to do with Neeson and the number of unbelievable events that happen in the film (the greater problem). Neeson is a good actor and his performance of a man who is devoted to his daughter is convincing and even touching. This really provides the emotional core to the film. But the filmmakers needed to show a little more desperation from the character, perhaps to the point where Neeson would behave psychotically–which would be entirely appropriate given the ever growing prospects of losing his daughter to the underground sex-trade. It would have been interesting to see this gradual deterioration and made his actions perhaps a bit more believable. (This character arc could have possibly made the character more interesting in that we could see how this decent into crazed desperation may have irreparably damaged him, altering the way his love for his daughter manifests itself.) For example, there’s a scene where he shoots his friend’s innocent wife in the arm to get his (corrupt) friend to help him. The lack of desperation and psychosis in Mills makes the scene less effective and convincing. A movie that came to mind that serves as a contrast in this regard is Payback with Mel Gibson. Gibson, unlike Neeson, is convincing as someone who’s gone over the edge, someone near an amoral approach. That’s what the film needed. (Actors like Clive Owen, Daniel Craig or possibly Robert DeNiro could have brought this “crazed” element that would have helped the film.)

But the bigger problem was in the number of improbable circumstances in the film. Most action films can succeed or fail based on whether they break or don’t break the threshold for suspension of disbelief. Almost every action film has circumstances that defy belief. How many of these occur and the ways the filmmakers try to minimize the improbability of these situations often determine the degree to which the film is entertaining. This is obviously a subjective thing. For me, if the filmmakers make a decent attempt to explain improbable situations I can deal with scenes that would otherwise have me rolling my eyes. The filmmakers make almost no attempt at this. I’ll mention two off the top of my head. In one scene, Mills attacks one of the Albanians in a taxi. The driver runs and gets some French police officers. Mills steals the taxi and goes after the Albanian, who is running up a freeway off ramp–not far from where the taxi started. Mills chases the Albanian on foot and eventually falls and gets hit by a car. Mills just walks away. Where’s the police? How’d he get away. There’s not attempt to explain this. Later Mills steals a French police id and infiltrates one of the Albanian hideouts. The problem is that he doesn’t speak French, nor does he have an accent. Yet, he still manages to sell the story that he needs more bribe money to allow them to operate. There are other things like this that just keep accumulating and eventually, for me, broke my ability to suspend disbelief.

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